Video: 16-hour ‘flightmare’

  1. Closed captioning of: 16-hour ‘flightmare’

    >>> one in new york city .

    >>> what began as a routine flight from l.a. to new york became a 16-hour ordeal for virgin passengers over the weekend after their flight was diverted due to bad weather . the story has quickly become the latest flight -mare with tales of passengers forced to ration potato chips . the key is a judge from " dancing with the stars " was on board.

    >> reporter: the flight left los angeles as scheduled as 7:10 a.m . pacific time planning to land 5 1/2 hours later at jfk. in new york , severe wind and approaching bad weather was wreaking havoc with hundreds of flights. the virgin flight was forced to circle the airport for nearly two hours. finally the plane was diverted to stewart airport in newburgh, new york .

    >> when the weather conditions are up against operational limits it can get dicey.

    >> reporter: anxious passengers began sending messages via social networking sites . the tale of the nightmare flight took off. 20 of the 126 passengers chose to get off the plane. but passenger david martin stayed aboard documenting what he says was 4 1/2 frustrating hours on the runway. for those who stayed aboard, there was water, snacks were rationed, four potato chips per passenger.

    >> it was a roller coaster atmosphere, several hours sitting on the tarmac. positive to negative to positive to negleative.

    >> reporter: starting next month, new rules will limit airlines from keeping passengers on the tarmac for more than four hours or facing stiff fines. as for this flight , virgin issued a statement said, we needed to have done a better job communicating a difficult situation to our dwefguest. all passengers were refunded the cost of the flight and got a personal apology from the ceo for friendlier skies next time around.

updated 3/17/2010 7:55:22 PM ET 2010-03-17T23:55:22

A new federal rule that is supposed to prevent travelers from being stranded on airport tarmacs will be implemented too late to help Virgin America passengers marooned for 4½ hours at a little-used New York airport.

Virgin America Flight 404 was forced to land at Stewart International Airport in Newburgh at about 5:30 p.m. Saturday after fierce winds made it impossible to land in New York City. The jet originated in Los Angeles and was bound for John F. Kennedy International Airport.

Once on the ground, the pilot and crew quickly found themselves in a pickle while they waited for permission to get back in the air.

Virgin doesn't normally operate out of Stewart, meaning it had no staff to bring the passengers food, unload their bags, or arrange ground transportation for the 90-mile drive to Kennedy.

Just getting people off the plane was a problem, airline spokeswoman Abby Lunardini said.

"There was nowhere for us to go to get to a gate," she said. The airline doesn't rent gates at Stewart and didn't seek immediate help from competitors who do.

As the hours ticked by, the airline periodically asked the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the airport, to give small groups of passengers rides to the terminal, but fliers were told that if they left they couldn't return.

There was also confusion about who was allowed to go and who had to stay aboard, said passenger David Martin, the CEO of a social networking site called Kontain, who posted live video updates on the ordeal as the episode unfolded.

Video: Crew 'snapped' "We felt like we were stuck out there on the moon," he said.

Martin said he had fun anyway during the delay, mostly because he happened to be sitting next to "Dancing With the Stars" judge Carrie Ann Inaba.

"We had a fantastic time," he said. "I'm serious. We were just giggling and laughing. We talked abut the movie 'Alive' and how we'd have to eat each other to survive."

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Still, one passenger had a panic attack, he said. Food ran short, and the crew resorted to rationing handfuls of potato chips and nuts. Some crew members snapped at passengers, Martin said.

A new Department of Transportation rule scheduled to go into effect in late April could mean fines of up to $27,500 per passenger if a plane is stuck on the tarmac for more than three hours, but it only applies if fliers aren't given the opportunity to disembark.

There are also exceptions for instances in which returning to the terminal would disrupt airport operations.

There is no fine for airlines that deplane passengers and then reboard them later when the weather clears.

It is unclear whether the situation at Stewart, in which some passengers got off, but others did not, would have qualified as a violation.

The Department of Transportation said it is investigating.

Of the 126 passengers on the plane, 20 opted to head for the terminal courtesy of Port Authority vehicles. Many hailed a taxi and were home in short order.

"Obviously, those people made the right decision," Lunardini said.

Video: Waters, snacks rationed on delayed Virgin America flight The rest remained aboard until about 10 p.m., when a ground crew from JetBlue, which flies regularly out of Stewart, came aboard, announced that the flight had been canceled and said they were there to arrange bus transportation to Kennedy.

A JetBlue spokeswoman said the airline was responding to a call from the Virgin America crew requesting assistance. Its workers also unloaded the passengers' bags.

Virgin America CEO David Cush phoned some passengers Sunday night, including Inaba and Martin, to apologize and all passengers have been offered refunds and credits toward a future flight, Lunardini said.

"Certainly we learned some lessons," she said

Inaba posted on her Twitter page that the apology and refund had restored her faith in the airline.

The flight was one of eight diverted to Stewart because of bad weather.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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