A JetBlue Airbus A321 startled passengers and bystanders when it tipped onto its tail at a gate at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport on the evening of Sunday, October 22, 2023. The rare mishap occurred as passengers were disembarking flight 662 after it arrived from Bridgetown, Barbados.
Videos circulated on social media showed the plane’s nose pointing skyward with its front wheels lifted off the ground while the tail rested on the tarmac.
JetBlue said the incident was caused by “a shift in weight and balance during deplaning.” As passengers exited from the front of the aircraft, the back end became too heavy, causing the plane’s center of gravity to shift rearward. This resulted in the tail tipping toward the ground, lifting the nose into the air.
JetBlue spokesman Derek Dombrowski said the plane “eventually returned down” to a normal position. He confirmed no injuries were reported and stated that the safety of passengers and crew is the airline’s “priority.” The affected aircraft, registered as N959JB, has been taken out of service for inspection following the dramatic mishap.
An Unnerving Experience for Passengers
Although no one was hurt, the unexpected tail tip startled passengers who were deplaning after their 4.5-hour flight from Barbados. TikTok user Sinead Bovell, who said she was aboard the flight, shared a video showing the plane’s cabin tilted at an angle after the abrupt shift.
In the video’s caption, Bovell explained that about half of the passengers had already gotten off when the plane “abruptly tilted backward.” She noted the positioning of passengers in the cabin was strategically managed to stabilize the plane afterward. Passengers then exited the aircraft two rows at a time to maintain balance and prevent any further tipping.
Footage showed passengers holding onto seats as the plane leaned back at a sharp angle. The experience likely rattled many, although the cabin crew provided clear instructions to ensure everyone could safely disembark following the unexpected incident.
A Rare Occurrence That Demands Investigation
While tilting of an aircraft during disembarking is uncommon, similar events have been documented before. In 2021, a United Airlines Boeing 737 tipped onto its tail at an Idaho airport after a college football team deplaned from the back, causing a weight imbalance.
Aircraft are designed with the center of gravity in mind to ensure stability during flight and ground operations. Pilots calculate weight distribution before each flight. However, unexpected shifts can still occur depending on how passengers move about the cabin and deplane.
Sunday’s incident with the JetBlue A321 remains under investigation. According to aviation expert Kevin Michaels, a managing director at AeroDynamic Advisory, the tipping may have been caused by baggage shifting rearward or a maintenance issue that allowed the tail’s horizontal stabilizer to move more freely.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) may also look into the occurrence as part of its oversight of airline safety practices. Following any such incident, experts say a thorough inspection is warranted to determine the root cause. Identifying any mechanical or procedural deficiencies will help prevent similar events.
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The Affected Airbus A321 Aircraft
The JetBlue plane involved was an 8-year-old Airbus A321-231, registration N959JB, equipped with two International Aero V2500 engines. JetBlue began operating this particular A321 in 2015 when the manufacturer delivered it new.
The A321 is a popular narrowbody aircraft used widely on domestic U.S. routes. It is part of the successful A320 family that forms the backbone of many global airline fleets. JetBlue operates over 90 A321s and uses them extensively for flights throughout the Americas.
According to aviation data firm Cirium, the affected aircraft was still grounded as of October 24 while inspections were underway. Bringing it back into service will require clearance from the FAA and JetBlue’s own safety teams.
For now, the airline has had to remove the A321 from scheduled flights temporarily. Industry experts say this will require some short-term planning by JetBlue to cover upcoming routes to which the aircraft had been assigned.
JetBlue’s Response Applauded
Despite the shock of seeing one of its planes tip vertically, JetBlue has received praise for its swift and transparent response. The airline openly acknowledged the incident and quickly took steps to investigate the cause.
Aviation analysts say JetBlue is sending the right message by emphasizing safety first and removing the aircraft from service. This allows proper inspections to be carried out without pressure to return the plane to the skies quickly.
The company also communicated promptly with passengers, updated the public via social media, and cooperated fully with airport authorities and regulators. Customers impacted by any flight cancellations resulting from the aircraft’s grounding were likely rebooked smoothly with assistance from JetBlue’s customer service team.
Former aviation accident investigator David Soucie commended JetBlue’s actions: “The company did exactly what they should do. They informed the authorities they’re doing an investigation, and the plane will fly again once it’s determined to be safe.”
While Sunday’s incident shook passengers and attracted media attention, JetBlue aims to learn from it. Their goal is to determine the cause, remedy it, and enable their crews to continue delivering safe, reliable air travel. The tipping A321 will provide important lessons that help improve safety practices both at JetBlue and across the broader airline industry.
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