We don’t expect too much from airplanes, as long as they can get us to our destination (roughly) on time, travel safely and maybe show a decent movie. What we do expect is not to be stuck on a tarmac for eight hours.
When JetBlue Flight 504 left Fort Lauderdale, Fla., for Newark, N.J., at 10:07 a.m. E.T. on Saturday, departing 32 minutes late, the 100-plus passengers probably weren’t too perturbed. But then Mother Nature got involved and all hell broke loose.
The snowstorm that covered much of the Northeast over the weekend led to the diversion of 23 flights to Bradley International Airport, located near Hartford, Conn. Flight 504 landed there at 1:07 p.m. Granted, it wasn’t Newark and the delay only added to the earlier one, but all things considered, it could have been worse, right?
Well, it quickly became worse. What followed was an eight-hour nightmare for both the passengers and crew as the plane sat on the tarmac. Sure enough, the food and water that was available ran out (that’s what at least one person claimed), and the delay also meant that the (ahem) facilities were affected. “The toilets were backed up. When you flushed, nothing would happen,” said Andrew Carter, a reporter for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel who was traveling to cover the Miami Dolphins–New York Giants game.
JetBlue apologized for the situation, pinning the blame on a “confluence of events,” including intermittent power outages that meant that refueling and deplaning became difficult. The airline also said it would refund the cost of the ticket to all those who were diverted to Bradley.
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That didn’t deter the passengers from making their feelings known. NBC Connecticut reported that 911 dispatchers told passengers they’d received at least a dozen calls. Passenger Roseann Kozma conducted a phone interview with CNN affiliate WTIC-TV from the plane, explaining that “a couple passengers are fighting.” Even the pilot got his two cents in. “I have a paraplegic that needs to come off,” the pilot said, pleading with airport officials. “I have a diabetic here that’s got an issue … I’ve just got to get some help.”
By the time the doors opened, the passengers applauded even as they chanted, “Let us out! Let us out!” But this might not be the end of the matter for the airline. Previously, after an even lengthier nine-hour tarmac delay, FlyersRights.org was established. And JetBlue isn’t new to this kind of misery, as a 2007 flight was stranded at JFK for 11 hours. What’s more, the Department of Transportation now has a three-hour tarmac rule, which Saturday’s flight easily violated.
Any subsequent action could prove turbulent for JetBlue. If it is determined that the airline was in breach of the tarmac-delay rule, JetBlue may be fined as much as $27,500 per passenger. Sadly for the customers, they won’t likely see any of the money.