Feds Launch Probes of Airline Tarmac DelaysNov 1, 2011 | Parker Waichman LLP
Facing a federal investigation after his airline left 100 passengers stranded on the tarmac for at least 7 hours, JetBlue's CEO issued a public apology yesterday. The airline also said on Sunday it would refund its passengers' full fares on all six planes it diverted to Connecticut's Bradley International Airport during Saturday's snow storm.
According to The Wall Street Journal, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s tarmac delay regulation allows it to fine airlines as much as $27,500 per passenger if a domestic flight sits on the tarmac for more than three hours without letting the passengers disembark. The time limit is four hours for international flights.
Hundreds of flights were cancelled and others diverted on Saturday when an early nor'easter hit the East Coast. JetBlue flight 504, Fort Lauderdale-to-Newark, was one of several diverted to Bradley, where it landed around 1:00 p.m. Passengers were stuck on the idle plane for more than seven hours, as food and water ran out and toilets stopped functioning. At one point, the pilot called airport officials and pleaded with them to send police, telling them he “can’t seem to get any help from our own company," ABC News said.
The transportation department is also investigating an American Airlines flight that was also diverted to Bradley. That flight, which had originally been headed to JFK after taking off from Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris, landed in Hartford around 2:30 p.m. It sat for seven and a half hours before U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents allowed the passengers to deplane, according to The Wall Street Journal.
According to ABC News, Rob Maruster, Jet Blue’s chief operating officer, made the apology in a video message posted on blog.jetblue.com. According to Maruster, JetBlue diverted a total of six flights to Hartford's Bradley International Airport on Saturday due to "various runway congestion and other operational issues at Newark and JFK airports.”
“We did not deplane those aircraft in our target time allotted,” Maruster says. “At no point this weekend was safety ever compromised in our decision making — whether it was our customers and our crew members — in fact, safety was their No. 1 concern.”