Virgin America’s Long Ground Delay Was Handled Well, Despite What You May Read

Another day, another long delay. The good news is that this one was actually handled well, despite what you might be hearing elsewhere.. Let’s talk about Virgin America flight 404 and its 16 hour odyssey getting from LA to New York.

You probably Virgin America Tweaked Adknow that the weather in New York was simply horrendous last week. It was shockingly bad to the point where JFK stopped operating for awhile when wind gusts reach more than 70 kts. Now, a ton of flights were canceled, but Virgin America 404 wasn’t one of them.

The plane took off from LAX at 734a and diverted to New York’s Stewart/Newburgh Airport when it couldn’t land at JFK. The plane landed at 515p, meaning it was in the air for nearly 7 hours. What you’ll see in other news outlets is that the people were trapped on the plane for hours and hours, getting verbally abused by the crew. Now let’s get the full story.

The plane had already been circling New York for awhile, hoping for a gap in the weather to open up. That didn’t happen and they were running low on fuel, so they went to Stewart and passengers sat there for 4.5 hours. Upon landing, there were no gates available; they were filled by JetBlue diversions. So, the plane went to what’s called a hardstand. Basically, that’s an empty spot where they could park.

Thirty five minutes after parking, they rolled up airstairs and gave people the option to get off. Some got off right then. Another couple groups left over the next couple hours totaling twenty people in all. Passengers were quickly served water and more was brought to the plane when they ran low. The lavs were working the whole time. About halfway through the sit, they ran out of food, though people could have gone in to the airport if they wanted.

Through the ground sit, Virgin America kept monitoring the weather and hoping that they would be allowed to takeoff again. Things kept changing rapidly but they got worse instead of better as originally expected. Four hours into the ground sit, Virgin America decided to cancel the flight and bus people to JFK instead. The plane did eventually take off without passengers and went back to New York to position it for its next flight.

So what really went wrong here? It sounds like the crew had a meltdown of sorts. There are reports of crewmembers snapping at the passengers and getting angry. You can watch some snippets of what seems like good cockpit communication here, but I guess the fireworks happened later. That was probably the only thing that really should have been done differently.

Let’s go down the checklist.

  • Were passengers trapped on a plane for more than 3 hours without being allowed to leave? No.
  • Did the lavs work? Yes.
  • Were passengers provided food and water? Yes, until they ran out of food, but people could have gone into the terminal.
  • Did the crew give constant updates? It seemed like the pilot did a good job.

So as far as handling goes, things went somewhat by the book. And the three hour rule wouldn’t have applied here. But regarding the long wait on the plane, well, the quickly changing weather was the culprit. There was no mass conspiracy to keep people on a plane. They honestly thought they were going to be able to get out of there.

Still, the flight attendants losing their cool is a huge problem, and whether it’s their fault or whether it came due to lack of support from the airline itself doesn’t matter. The airline is responsible, and they owned up to it quite nicely. The CEO of social media site Kontain was onboard and updating frequently (link posted above), and Virgin America saw it. CEO David Cush immediately reached out and offered a personal apology. He sent a written apology to each passenger, gave them full refunds, and gave a credit for a future flight.

Things go wrong, we know that. In this case, the weather didn’t cooperate and the flight attendants seemed to have trouble handling the situation. But the airline recovered nicely. Overall, a nasty situation was handled quite well. Had the flight attendants handled things better, we probably wouldn’t have even heard about this.

[http://www.flickr.com/photos/spine/ / CC BY 2.0]

Update 3/18 @ 726p: Virgin America has posted a very detailed report (PDF) on its website if you want full details. Also, it appears that I was wrong. Since they ran out of food a couple hours in, that technically would have been a violation of the new 3 hour rule despite doing absolutely everything else right.

(Visited 60 times, 1 visits today)

Get Posts via Email When They Go Live or in a Weekly Digest

Leave a Reply

54 Comments on "Virgin America’s Long Ground Delay Was Handled Well, Despite What You May Read"

avatar
Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Davester
Guest

Cranky, thanks for the post on this. “Thirty five minutes after parking, they rolled up airstairs and gave people the option to get off. ” Do we know what the pax were told if they got off at that time, e.g. if you deplane now, then you are responsible for your journey to JFK, to get your checked bags there, etc.? The best parts were that they allowed people off, had working lavs, and gave frequent communication. A tough situation, but it seemed that Virgin America handled it well – given their location and ground conditions.

Jeff K
Guest

That’s all I would really want in that situation – the chance to get off the plane giving me the opportunity to make my own options. Well done by them.

AndrewBW
Guest
I wonder if situations like this — and the overblown reactions some people seem to have — could be avoided by better managing people’s ability to make choices. Rather than offering people the choice to get on or off the plane, then having to manage the whims of the majority that would stay put (thus creating the potential for conflict and stressing the crew, as it appears happened here), people should be told they must get off the plane, allowing them to manage their whims on their own. Corral them loosely somewhere within the airport complex with clear instructions that… Read more »
OPNLguy
Guest

Comparing the info that you provided with that in the various media stories, it suggests that the media is defaulting to “worst-case scenarios” without sufficient fact-checking. With all rules appearing to have reasonably been followed, is ANY flight that doesn’t go 100% normally now target for the media expose’ du jour? How much of the consumerist movement has emanated from trumphed-up issues, versus truly legit ones?

Justin Gordon
Guest
Why do you think that over 100 people stayed on the plane???? If you were in the middle of nowhere, at night, in a storm, having to abandon your bags, on the middle of the runway and not knowing how far or where the terminals were, would you get off the plane???? If it was that easy and reasonable why would over 100 people stay on the plane for 5 hours after a 7 hour flight??? Don’t believe Virgin that they allowed everyone off the plane. Most people did not even know that they could leave. There was one small… Read more »
AndrewBW
Guest

“If you were in the middle of nowhere, at night, in a storm, having to abandon your bags, on the middle of the runway and not knowing how far or where the terminals were, would you get off the plane????”

Sure, why not? I’m an adult, not a little child. I’ve been in significantly worse situations with a lot fewer resources than what’s available to me at a mid-sized airport. It’s not like this plane landed somewhere in the middle of the Amazon jungle. Sheesh.

frank
Guest

” People were terrified.”

Justin, seriously. Terrified? Lets use the real word, pissed. I bet that plane was filled with New Yorkers. We’re a tough bunch. Why didnt alot of passengers get off the plane in Stewart? Because they were ON THEIR OWN at that point. Airlines generally dont compensate passengers due to weather and these people would have had to PAY THEIR OWN WAY TO JFK.

Justin Gordon
Guest
Were you on the plane, Frank? If not,then I don’t think you can speak for those who were. We had a terrifying landing which caused most people to be in fear already. There was so little information being communicated as well, which also fueled the alarm. One woman had a panic attack and was escorted off the plane by authorities after being yelled at by a flight attendant. Many felt like they couldn’t speak up at this point, without being arrested. Nobody had ANY idea when we would be getting off. When the pilot is telling the passengers that conditions… Read more »
frank
Guest

After some 12 THOUSAND FLIGHTS, Justin. I’ve pretty much seen it all.
Delays, aborted landings, take-offs, medical emergencies, 2–FOUR HOUR tarmac delays, many, many irates, a death, mechanicals, and one emergency landing…..etc…etc.
And, pertaining to your last sentence and what the pilot said…………….A pilot and his/her crew will not jeopardize THEIR LIVES for yours. They’re decisions are based on SAFETY.

David SF eastbay
Member
Can’t see any airline who lands at an airport they do not serve would have an easy full proof ‘policy’ on what to do. People seem to ‘remember’ things differently after the situation. A little turbulence turns into ‘I thought we were going to die’ when it comes time to tell friends and family. What were things like in BOS and IAD at the time, going to one of their stations might have been a better and sooner choice. As I type this, I just read Virgin America will start service to Toronto in June from SFO and LAX. Was… Read more »
David SF eastbay
Member

Whoops sorry, forgot to mention they will also start service to Orlando from both cities also.

Ron
Guest
Now what happens with international flights under such circumstances? I was once on a transatlantic flight that wasn’t able to land at JFK due to fog. After circling for an hour we diverted to Newark, where we sat for another 1:30 hours without being allowed off the plane (a 747); I think immigration had something to do with this, though I’m not sure if it wasn’t the airline’s choice to not allow people through. I would’ve loved to get off at Newark, but instead I had to continue on the 45-minute (!) flight to JFK, trek on the subway to… Read more »
David SF eastbay
Member

Ron that’s funny. Three different cities I’ve lived in the nearest airport meant I could look out the plane window and see my house or apartment building and think couldn’t they just ‘beam’ me down instead of flying past it.

No more drrama, please..
Guest
“Why do you think that over 100 people stayed on the plane????” Maybe because they, like the airline, had a reasonable expectation that, at some point, conditions at JFK would improve to the degree that they could re-launch and land there? “If you were in the middle of nowhere, at night, in a storm, having to abandon your bags, on the middle of the runway and not knowing how far or where the terminals were, would you get off the plane????” You’re not in the middle of nowhere, you’re at SWF, well part of the civilized world. You’re not in… Read more »
thisworldtraveler
Guest
So, the USA Today article is especially galling to me. It talks about how this incident happened before the new 3 hour delay rule takes effect. That rule wouldn’t have affected this flight if I recall correctly because this involved a diversion and landing, and not an initial take off. Newburgh isn’t a terribly large terminal. If they couldn’t access gate space, it looks like Virgin America did the best that they could with the limited resources they had there. They provided what resources they had to the passengers, they provided water, they kept the toilets working. I understand that… Read more »
Anonymous
Guest

That rule wouldn’t have affected this flight if I recall correctly because this involved a diversion and landing, and not an initial take off.
—————————————————————————-
The criteria isn’t necessarily a diversion or takeoff delay, or even a delay awaiting an arrival gate, it’s being trapped onboard. As has been mentioned (but largely ignored by others), they had stairs to the VX aircraft in a reasonable amout of time, and passengers were given the option of deplaning.

john96
Member

I often wonder how we as a society morphed from being pioneers who walked across this country for months or rode on hard wooden benches behind incredibly smelly animals, picking up their excrement to burn for warmth to the pathetic whiners who after crossing the continent in a few hours couldn’t figure out how to deal with this situation (and others like them) … I mean the Donner party waited at least a few days in their blizzard before frying up their friends and neighbors.

Anonymous
Guest

That is, without any doubt whatsoever, one of the most simultaneously on-point and humorous observations I’ve ever read. Well done, Sir.

Your comments also raise an interesting follow-on question. What if today’s media had been around (both capability and editorial slant) back then? I dare say that nobody would have ventured past St. Louis or KC…

Oliver
Guest

The “Comment of the Day” award goes to John.

Chris
Guest

Interested to get feedback from Ms. Hanni on this one. Does she think that the airline handled the situation correctly, how she thought it might have been handled better, and if she thinks the new rules played a part in the situation, or if it was the airline doing the right thing.

Good job V.America in a bad situation.

Brad
Guest
Thank you Cranky for making some sense of this weird situation. Sounds like you hit the mark. Everyone involved in a situation like this needs to “Man UP!” There was water provided. There were snacks provided until exhausted. Toilets worked and people were allowed off. VA was hit hard on this one and probably not deserving. Yes some “important” passenger blogged about his horrible experience and got press. These things happen and will continue to happen. With this stupid new Bill of Rights Law, VA should of just canceled on the ground in LAX and brought the whole thing to… Read more »
Ed Casper
Guest

Do you mean to tell me that the media sometimes misrepresents the “facts” of a story? What a shock!

malbarda
Member
If you read the story of one of the passengers (it is linked in Cranky’s article, copied here: http://www.kontain.com/david/entries/72664/hello-virginamerica-customers-this-is-jetblue-and-we-have-arranged-water-transportation-and-an-apology-for-you/) it was actually still a pretty poor performance from the airline and the airport. The main culprits seem to have been the inexperienced and stressed out cabin crew, pilot included. And a rogue airport supervisor. David Martin (the passenger) seems to be a very reasonable guy and he tried to see the positive in a situation he also understood was caused by mother nature and nothing else. But VA certainly tested his good nature, and had it not been for the… Read more »
ASFalcon13
Guest
Sorry Maarten, but I’m not sure your examples prove anything. First, your KLM example. If you trust Wikipedia, more than 800 flights were cancelled in the NYC area during the blizzard. I’ll assume that an average of 50-100 folks per plane aren’t local, and need a hotel room…that’s 40000 to 80000 people that all need a hotel room simultaneously. NYC is a pretty popular place, and I’d imagine that the hotels were already pretty full for the holiday season, so finding empty hotel rooms for tens of thousands of folks just ain’t happening, there just aren’t enough empty rooms. That’s… Read more »
Steve
Guest
Geesh.. I doubt I would have wanted to even TRY to be in an airplane to get to JFK in 60 mph gusts. Good grief. Just get off the airplane and deal with it. I think that there are a large number of more proactively canceled flights. At least you know what you are dealing with. I flew into LGA on Sunday following the really bad weather, and it was pretty rocky then. From all evidence, Virgin Atlantic did what they could as fast as they could do it. I can imagine it would take some time to get a… Read more »
folsom97
Guest

As far as I know AA does not fly out of Budapest… must have been a code share flight to Zurich or London or other european city.

dan powers
Guest

This incident sets a bad precedent…by Virgin (Branson) refunding the price of the ticket to each passenger plus+$100…..do you know how much it costs to operate a A319 between LAX and JFK? my estimate at least $10,000….Virgin can afford to do this because a billionaire owns it….but if regular airlines did this…they would quickly all go bankrupt.

Dan
Guest

IIRC, the refund was for the crew’s actions, not the weather issue.

Bill from DC
Guest

hey dan – most regular airlines DID go bankrupt (excepting CO and AA) and it didn’t take anything nearly as drastic as the radical idea of fairly compensating passengers for an airline’s missteps!

Anonymous
Guest

Here’s a story idea… Maybe the media can track down some of those 20-25 folks who heroically deplaned the aircraft, so we can hear how they all escaped almost certain doom…

Stephen Dutton
Guest

Media beatup…personally i would have kissed the ground just to be on it, this is becoming boring, this is life people as things can go wrong when we have a weather system.

Tim
Guest
So, why should we automatically take your word for it? Just because you said you were there? Even if you were, why should we believe you over the facts reported by the airline & the crews who were also there? If the pilot made an announcement that people could get off, and someone didn’t hear it, how is that the pilot’s or airlines’ responsibility? Like many announcements, those people probably weren’t listening. Since the plane was parked at a hard stand, and not at a gate, then of course the passengers would be on their own if they chose to… Read more »
Ron
Guest
One more thought — landing at an unfamiliar airport must affect crew performance. Here’s a third diversion story for the day, this time one that happened to a relative of mine who was flying overnight from Paris to Tel Aviv on Air France. Due to morning fog at Tel Aviv the plane had to divert to Ovda, a military airfield in the desert, and it was clear from the cabin announcements that the French captain had only a vague idea of where he was going and was basically following Air Traffic Control until they landed at the empty airfield (this… Read more »
sjc user
Guest

If I had the option to get off, I would have taken a cab to Beacon and then Metro North down to GCT. You would have been in Midtown Manhattan by 9 PM. That’s better than being on the plane and getting to JFK at 2 AM.

jaybru
Member
Cranky, Perhaps you could comment from your experiences as to whether there are some airlines that are better than others in handling situations requiring diversions. That is, they have a superior, well-designed diversion contingency plan and seem to be able to carry out the plans so much better than other carriers. Not that they can simply avoid diversions, but that when its necessesary, the really have their acts together and the passengers know it and come to expect it. Of course, every carrier operates with safety as top priority for everything, like weather…well, we thought, but then came Air Florida… Read more »
Anonymous
Guest
…but don’t FAA ATC operating procedures give diverted flights priority handling, or at least not subject them to any penalties non-diverted flights might be subjected to at that time. I believe FAA calls it their “diversion recovery” program. ———————————————————————- Such procedures for diversion recovery does exist, but as you can see from this ATCSCC advisory for March 13th, that note in the last sentence confirms a tenet of the procedure, namely that if there’s a groundstop or ground delay program in effect for the impacted airport, a flight is still going to get an EDCT (expect departure clearance time, or… Read more »
f9ohio
Guest
Bottom line, these passangers not only got there, but they made the trip for free and they got an additional voucher in the process. Last time I checked, you can’t drive from LAX to JFK in 16 hours, and I’m sure as shit if you did you wouldn’t wind up gaining money by the time you arrived there. Very few understand the sheer beauty and convinence of air travel anymore. Maybe Virgin’s bedside manner could have used some polishing but they actually did quite well in getting passangers close and then went above and beyond with transportation, refunds, vouchers and… Read more »
f9ohio
Guest

and I just can’t resist, middle of nowhere? come on Justin! you are at an airport ha that’s hardly the middle of nowhere it might actually be described as somewhere. It’s so middle of nowhere that DL,US,UA, and CO all had flights going out the next day that could have connected to JFK. It’s so remote that the airport it self doesn’t have vending machines and water fountains. I guess I just use the word terrified more sparingly.

russ
Guest

Newburgh is not the middle of nowhere. It’s only about an hour and a half drive to midtown Manhattan or across the river from a Metro North commuter rail station that takes you to Grand Central in an hour and a half. These people on the flight had wi-fi and could have looked up other options to get back like the 20 people who left the flight.

It always pays to know your options.

Jimmy
Guest

IF THESE IDOITS WOULD “HIRE” LIFE / INDUSTRY STRONG F/A EXPERIENCE INSTEAD OF SOME “20 SOMETHINGS” WITH NO WORK ETHIC , LIFE EXPERIENCE,
OR “MATURITY” PERHAPS THIS INCIDENT WOULD HAVE BEEN “HANDLED” MUCH BETTER…OH WELL, VA – YOU GOT WHAT YOU WANTED “BLOND”, “YOUNG” &
“DUMB”…CONGRATULATIONS TO MEGAN FLANNAGAN & THE PEOPLE DEPARTMENT,
AND THE GREAT SELECTION PROCESS FOR YOUR INFLIGHT TEAM MEMBERS!!!!!!!!

trackback

[…] to launch a counter attack.  In fact I heard of the events not from the news media, but from Cranky Flier’s Brett Snyder who wrote a blunt rebuttal to any criticism that may have been suggested about the […]

trackback

[…] Virgin America’s Long Ground Delay Was Handled Well, Despite What You May Read […]

wpDiscuz