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Plane Passengers Stranded At Bradley

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(Stephan Savoia/AP Photo)

(Stephan Savoia/AP Photo)

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By CANDICE CHOI, AP Business Writer

NEW YORK (AP) _ Passengers on JetBlue planes were stranded on the tarmac in Hartford, Conn., for more than seven hours Saturday.

A passenger on one of the plane diverted to Bradley International Airport says the crew ran out of snacks and bottled water for the last few hours of the ordeal.

“The toilets were backed up. When you flushed, nothing would happen,” 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. His plane took off from Fort Lauderdale for Newark Liberty International Airport at around 9 a.m. After being diverted to Hartford, the plane sat on the tarmac between around 1:30 p.m. and 9 p.m., he said.

A representative for Bradley International was not available to comment on other delays at the airport.

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 New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport.

She said that equipment is needed for planes to land when visibility is low. She noted that 17 other flights with different carriers were also diverted to Bradley International.

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.

Once the planes landed at Bradley, Lucia said that intermittent power outages at the airport made refueling and deplaning difficult. She declined to specify how long planes sat on the tarmac.

But Kate Hanni, executive editor for FlyersRights.org, said she got calls from passengers and family members regarding three JetBlue flights that were delayed between seven and 10 hours.

Matt Shellenberger, who was on a JetBlue flight from Boston to JFK, said his plane was diverted to Bradley International and sat on the tarmac for seven hours.

The crew picked up trash regularly and handed out water and snacks and “everyone held their cool,” he said. But his frustrations grew with each status update; the reasons for the delay kept changing as the hours passed.

Early on, passengers were told that the plane was just being refueled and would fly out soon, Shellenberger said. Then they were told it was being de-iced. Then 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,” he said. “Then we stayed on the plane for seven hours.”

Carter, who was on another JetBlue flight, reported a similar sequence of updates. Passengers in the first few hours were told the plane was being refueled, then later that it was being de-iced. Then it became clear they “weren’t going anywhere,” Carter said.

The ordeal continued long after passengers were let off the plane.

The power outages from storms throughout Connecticut made booking hotel rooms difficult. As a result, many passengers just slept at the airport, Carter and Shellenberger said in separate interviews.

When they awoke, hundreds of passengers had to wait in line for hours just to figure out which flight they’d be on. Shellenberger said there wasn’t enough staff to smoothly handle all the tickets and processing.

“That was most disappointing part,” Carter said. “It seemed like there was no plan when we got off the plane.”

After spending the night in the terminal, Carter said he and several other passengers rented a van in the morning to drive to New Jersey rather than wait for the afternoon flight JetBlue had scheduled to Newark.

It’s not the first time JetBlue has had problems with tarmac delays. The New York-based airline also made headlines in 2007 when snow and ice storms stranded its planes for nearly 11 hours at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport.

Such high-profile delays helped prompt a regulation last year that fines airlines for holding domestic flights on the tarmac for more than three hours. This year, the rule was extended to apply to international flights that are held on the tarmac for more than four hours.

The Department of Transportation often doesn’t enforce the fines to their full extent unless delays are extreme, however. Passengers also do not get a cut of the fines.

Low-cost carriers are more prone to tarmac delays because letting passengers off planes can cost an airline a lot of money, said Hanni of FlyersRights.org.

If a plane is diverted because of a reason within the airline’s control, such as a mechanical failure, ticket contracts usually state that passengers will be reimbursed for hotels, food and transportation. That means planes do everything in their power to keep passengers on board and hope that the plane will be able to take off again.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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