JetBlue and AA Tarmac Delays - Consumer Justice Foundation

JetBlue and AA Tarmac Delays

Written by Faith Anderson on October 31, 2011
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Airline Crew Unable to Provide Reason for Extreme Delay

A JetBlue spokeswoman, Victoria Lucia, confirmed in an emailed statement that six of its planes, carrying a total of about 700 passengers, were diverted to Hartford as a result of a “confluence of events,” including equipment failures at Newark and JFK airports, which prevented planes from landing in low visibility. Once the planes landed at Bradley, Lucia said that intermittent power outages at the airport made refueling and deplaning difficult. What passengers found difficult though, was dealing with the crew’s inability to provide them with a straightforward reason for the extremely lengthy delay. Matt Shellenberger, who was on a JetBlue flight from Boston to JFK, said his plane was diverted to Bradley International and simply sat on the tarmac for seven hours. At first, “everyone held their cool,” Shellenberger said, but frustrations grew as the reasons for the delay changed with each status update. At first, passengers were told that the plane was just being refueled and would fly out soon. Then they were told that the plane was being de-iced, and then that there was an emergency on another plane. “We were told we were the third plane in line to get to the gate when we landed,” Shellenberger said. “Then we stayed on the plane for seven hours.”

Passengers Forced to Spend Night in Terminal

When the stranded passengers awoke after sleeping in the airport, chaos ensued. Hundreds of passengers had to wait in line for hours just to figure out which flight they would be on, said Andrew Carter, a reporter for the Sun Sentinel of Florida, who was traveling to cover the Miami Dolphins game against the New York Giants. Carter’s plane took off from Fort Lauderdale for Newark at about 9 a.m., and, after being diverted to Hartford, sat on the tarmac from about 1:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. Brent Stanley and his wife were on a diverted American Airlines flight that had originally been headed to JFK after taking off from Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris. After spending the night at the airport, Stanley and his wife were lucky to find two seats Sunday on a flight home to their two young sons in Chicago. Unfortunately, Stanley’s luggage was headed to JFK, because the Hartford airport crew wasn’t equipped to handle international luggage.

DOT Regulations Fine Airlines for Extreme Delays

This isn’t the first time JetBlue has had problems with tarmac delays. In 2007, the New York-based airline made headlines when snow and ice storms stranded its planes for nearly 11 hours at JFK. High-profile delays such as this prompted the establishment of a regulation in April 2010, which fines airlines for holding domestic flights on the tarmac for more than three hours. This year, the regulation was extended to apply to international flights that are held on the tarmac for more than four hours. If an airline is charged with breaking this rule, it faces a fine of $27,000 for each stranded passenger. Unfortunately, the Department of Transportation doesn’t enforce these laws to their full extent unless delays are extreme, and passengers do not receive a cut of the fines.

According to Kate Hanni, executive editor for FlyersRights.org, low-cost carriers are more prone to tarmac delays, because letting passengers off planes can cost an airline a lot of money. If a plane is diverted for a reason within the airline’s control, such as a mechanical failure, ticket contracts typically state that passengers will be reimbursed for food, hotels and transportation. This often results in airlines doing everything within their power to keep passengers on board in hopes that the plane will be able to take off again. In this case, the passengers were held on the plane for seven hours or more. A representative for the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, which oversees Newark and JFK airports, could not immediately say how many total flights were diverted to other airports because of equipment failures. JetBlue reported that passengers who were diverted to Bradley International would be reimbursed for their fares and hotel expenses.

Posted Under: United States
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