Delta passengers stuck on tarmac for 7 hours

/ Source: The Associated Press

Passengers aboard a Las Vegas-bound Delta Air Lines jet reported waiting nearly seven hours before their flight was ultimately canceled after thundershowers delayed more than 130 flights at John F. Kennedy International Airport.

Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Jim Peters said of 913 flights in and out of Kennedy on Sunday, 136 experienced delays, including 97 departures. He had no information on the number of canceled flights and had no details on the length of any particular delay.

Delta Air Lines Inc. spokeswoman Betsy Talton said the Las Vegas-bound flight was delayed five hours. She conceded passengers may have included the time it took them to board and then disembark at the gate, which was not included in her calculations.

Talton confirmed that the 184 passengers aboard Flight 621 were offered refunds or other travel arrangements after they reported being stuck on a grounded airplane for up to seven hours.

She said when the plane left the gate, it was No. 15 of 60 planes waiting to depart. Then, she said, air traffic controllers stopped all scheduled flights because of severe weather.

"The crew waited for the opportunity for the departure lanes to reopen so we could get customers to their destination; however, they ultimately made the decision to return to the terminal around 3 p.m., when the crew could not project a definitive departure time," Talton said.

She said because of congestion on the airport tarmac, the return to the terminal took another 90 minutes.

Patricia Johnson, of Putnam Valley, told the New York Daily News she was aboard the Delta flight that eventually was canceled.

"Everybody seems pretty calm, they just want to get off the plane," she said in Monday's editions. Passengers were not fed, but were provided water and warm soft drinks.

The issue of airline passenger rights has been growing in intensity in recent years as delays and cancellations have become routine for travelers.

Earlier this year, a federal appeals court struck down a New York state law requiring airlines to provide basic services to passengers cooped up for hours on tarmacs.

New York lawmakers passed the bill — the first of its kind in the nation — after a series of delays at Kennedy in the winter of 2007 left some passengers stranded for more than 10 hours with no food or water, overflowing toilets and no air conditioning.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the law interferes with federal law governing the price, route or service of an air carrier. Congress is now considering federal legislation.

David Stempler, president of the Air Travelers Association, said the Delta delay was "unacceptable and kind of unconscionable."

"The common thread seems to be extreme weather," he said. "When these things occur they should have a system worked out to extricate passengers."