Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Delta Airline Flight Stuck on Tarmac for 5 Hours as JFK

Delta Air Lines, with one of the worst track records for lengthy ground delays, kept passengers on a plane for hours Sunday at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport -- and then canceled their flight.

Flight 621 bound for Las Vegas with 184 passengers was scheduled to depart around 11 a.m., but amid thunderstorms in the Northeast the crew and passengers waited on the ground for about five hours with hopes of departing, according to Delta spokesman Kent Landers.

After the crew was unable to get a time for departure and some passengers said they wanted to return to the gate, the aircraft went back and the flight was canceled, according to Landers.

"We recognize this was a challenging situation for our customers," Landers said. "It was a very, very difficult day at JFK."

Atlanta-based Delta wasn't the only airline affected. The thunderstorms led the Federal Aviation Administration to limit airline operations for much of the day at JFK on Sunday.

"It's safe to say dozens of aircraft were affected by the delays at JFK yesterday," said Pasquale DiFulco, a spokesman for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates JFK. Many delays reached more than 41/2 hours by late afternoon, DiFulco said.

In those situations, sometimes airlines choose to cancel a flight, and "sometimes they'll choose to push ahead," DiFulco said.

Landers said Delta provided drinks and other "amenities" during the flight. The passengers were rescheduled for flights Sunday or Monday, or given refunds.

The JFK-Las Vegas flight was the longest of a number of Delta delays at JFK on Sunday.

And according to the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics, Delta had 22 flights where passengers waited to take off for four hours or longer in the year through May, the highest number of any U.S. airline.

The growing list of lengthy ground delays comes as Delta adds flights at congested JFK.

Gary Edwards, director of flight control for Delta, said the number of Delta's taxi-out ground delays out of 187,758 total flights during the January-May period is "statistically meaningless." But he acknowledged that passengers on affected flights are inconvenienced and said he has been working with the FAA and other entities to lower the number.

Ground delays have gotten more attention after meltdowns at JFK and other airports and passenger outcries for limits to the delays.

"Delta has a very bad record," said Kate Hanni, a consumer activist who formed the Coalition for an Airline Passengers' Bill of Rights. She added that she wishes Delta "would come forward with something more proactive for passengers."

Edwards said Delta takes the delays "very seriously."

But in the airline's operations, delays are sometimes unavoidable, he said.

"I want to focus on getting the aircraft into the air," Edwards said. "I don't want to focus on getting the aircraft back to the gate."

Probably followed by, "because thank god I'm not on the plane so who cares if it sits on a tarmac for five hours, I'm heading home at the end of the day".

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