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.

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

  1. Davester says:

    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.

    • CF says:

      It appears that if people got off, then they weren’t allowed back on. I think what happened is they let people out through a side gate, so they were outside the secure area. Couldn’t have done much else at that point, I assume.

  2. Jeff K says:

    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.

  3. AndrewBW says:

    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 if a window to take off opens, they need to be ready to get their fat butts back onboard. (Obviously, I’m ignoring whatever security problems this may create — perhaps someone else can clarify.)

    Once in the airport, however, those that just can’t survive without eating (because God forbid people not eat for a few hours… sheesh) could get their own food, and everyone else could be afforded some level of choice in how they want to occupy themselves. It also gives the crew a chance to chill out either back on the plane, or in whatever private facility the airport might offer.

    I mean, if you’re going to let people off the plane anyway…? What problem with this am I missing? Or is the idea that once you got off the plane, that was it, you were finding your own way home?

    • CF says:

      So it appears that they let people off and they were sent through a side gate outside the secure area. I know all the gates were full from other diversions so I imagine that there wasn’t much room to corral people since there were already a million of them there. (I’m assuming.)

      One of the problems with letting people off into the terminal is that it takes a long time to get them back on the plane. If the weather lifts and you’re given a window by air traffic control, then you really want to take advantage of that right away or you might lose your chance and be put in the back of the line.

      • Ron says:

        Yep, definitely want to stand in line. I was once on a DFW–EWR flight that was circling above West Virginia, I think, when the captain kept telling us we were 10th in line for landing at EWR, then 9th, 8th and so on until we had to divert to Dulles, at which point we lost our position in line. We pulled up to a gate, let a few people off who weren’t coming back, brought one beverage cart on, and then went straight out to the end of the runway to wait for clearance to take off. It took about 30 minutes before we were allowed in the air, and in total we arrived about 3 hours late. I can’t imagine how late we would have been if everyone had been allowed to deplane and come back on.

  4. OPNLguy says:

    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?

  5. Justin Gordon says:

    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 announcement by the pilot who sounded very disgruntled and said something like “you guys can get off the plane, walk to a fence 100 yards away, and then you’re on your own, and cannot get back on this plane.” People were terrified and felt like they were on the plane indefinitely. There were not cabs or rental cars available and the nearest train station was 10 miles away. Before you write an article slamming the passengers and praising the airline, get all of the facts.

    • AndrewBW says:

      “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 says:

      ” 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.

      • 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 at JFK were terrible, many planes have attempted to land but have aborted with severe turbulence, and then saying we’re going to taxi out in 30 minutes, it is pretty terrifying. Winds don’t go from 70 mph to normal in 30 minutes. Most people did not want to get back up into that storm again after what they had just experienced.

        • frank says:

          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.

    • CF says:

      I still maintain that the communication from the flight crew seems to be the only real problem here. I have no doubt it was a miserable experience, but it was pretty miserable for everyone trying to fly into one of the busiest airports in the world that day. Except for improved communication and flight attendant attitudes, what would you have wanted done differently?

      It’s not easy to immediately arrange for transportation at an airport where you don’t normally fly, but they did it eventually. They can’t be expected to do everything perfectly at an airport where they don’t go.

      And yes, winds do go from 70 to 0 very quickly. As soon as that front passes, it can change rapidly.

  6. 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 Toronto on anyone radar as the next city they would serve?

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

    • CF says:

      I think the weather was bad throughout the northeast, but my guess is they kept circling until the last possible minute, hoping they could get in. By that point, they would have only had enough fuel to get to Stewart.

      And yeah, I’m working on a BNET piece for tomorrow on the Toronto/Orlando stuff.

  7. Ron says:

    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 Port Authority Bus Terminal, then roll down the Turnpike (going past EWR) to my final destination.

    • 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.

    • CF says:

      International is a whole different animal, because passengers have to go through customs and immigration. If you land at an airport where the facilities are open, then that’s fine usually, but otherwise you might be stuck, as happened to that TACA plane at Ontario a few months back.

      • Ron says:

        The funny thing about that diversion was that when we started circling at 05:30, the captain came on the PA and announced that we were not going to lose any time because immigration at JFK only opened at 06:00. By the time we diverted to EWR it was 06:30; could it be that immigration wasn’t open at all at that hour? (This was in the summer of 1997, and at the time I believe EWR had just one international arrivals facility, at Terminal B.) It might have been a gate issue, or a cost issue, or that they didn’t want to deal with having some people get off and others fly on — I’m sure this would cause a headache with immigration, though I’m not quite sure why.

  8. “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 the middle of a runway (kind of hard for other aircraft to land and takeoff), but you’re parked (by your own recounting of what the pilot said) 100 yards/300 feet from a fence you could go past to “escape” the aircraft. Once through the fence, of course you can’t get back aboard the plane—common sense should tell you that you’d need to be re-screened.

    “If it was that easy and reasonable why would over 100 people stay on the plane for 5 hours after a 7 hour flight???”

    You’re repeating yourself. Please calm down see above.

    “Don’t believe Virgin that they allowed everyone off the plane.”

    Early on, they offered everyone the OPPORTUNITY to deplane. EVERYONE didn’t get off the plane until later, once the airline had thrown in the towel as waiting any longer for the weather to improve, and they’d cancelled the flight.

    “Most people did not even know that they could leave. There was one small announcement by the pilot who sounded very disgruntled and said something like “you guys can get off the plane, walk to a fence 100 yards away, and then you’re on your own, and cannot get back on this plane.”

    It’s the airline’s fault that some passengers don’t pay attention?

    “People were terrified and felt like they were on the plane indefinitely.”

    OH MY GAWD! We’ll be here forever! We’ll all DIE and they’ll find our bodies sitting in these comfy leather seats. Oh, the HUMANITY!

    “There were not cabs or rental cars available and the nearest train station was 10 miles away.”

    This is the airline’s fault? Why do think buses were provided?

    “Before you write an article slamming the passengers and praising the airline, get all of the facts.”

    Before you flail around anymore than you have, please take a couple of deep breaths, and make a reasonable attempt to look at things rationally instead of emotionally embellishing things and making this relative inconvenience a genuine life-or-death drama.

  9. 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 the passengers had an unpleasant experience, but in exchange for their delay, and being treated rudely by a couple of flight crew members, every one of the passengers traveled for free, got $100 and a personal apology from the CEO of the airline. That’s really owning up to the issues and a good faith effort to make good on problems.

  10. Anonymous says:

    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.

    • CF says:

      Definitely correct, but it does appear now that since they ran out of food, that would have been a violation, despite how absurd that sounds.

  11. John says:

    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 says:

      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 says:

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

  12. Chris says:

    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.

  13. Brad says:

    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 a halt there!!

  14. Ed Casper says:

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

  15. Maarten says:

    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 personal phone call from the CEO I think VA could have lost him for JetBlue.

    And that brings me to another point. He recieved a personal phone call, only because he has a large social following. Most other passengers received a peace offering, and a written apology but the personal phone call… nope.

    It used to be that we were all at the mercy of a company’s choices on how to resolve a situation. But in today’s day and age, people with significant social clout can get things moving by exposure. That seems to have happened in this instance. Because people like David Martin (and perhaps others) posted, tweeted, in effect, published, VA’s CEO may have felt more compelled to reach out personally, and with a great offering for all passengers.

    A colleague of mine was stranded at JFK during the pre-xmas snow storm. He sat on a KLM plane for 7 hours, in the end went back to the gate, and was left by KLM stating: “this flight is now cancelled and will leave tomorrow. There are so many cancelled flights that we can not organize a hotel as there are no more rooms.” Good bye. Good luck. Whatever…

    And another colleague was diverted on AA last Saturday from Budapest to JFK during the storm and landed in Boston. They were held on the plane for 3 hours. Then deplaned. Another hour through customs as Boston’s capacity was at its limits due to apparently 26 diverted international arrivals. Luggage took another 1.5 hours. And then, 2.5 hours after that, there was a bus to JFK. And to date he has not heard anything from AA.

    I am sure that Cranky, or a passenger like David would have received at least an apology by now, perhaps 10,000 miles thrown in, or something similar like that.

    Significant social clout is a new and potent currency!

    • ASFalcon13 says:

      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 not KLM, that’s life. What do you want, KLM to magically conjure a hotel out of thin air? Perhaps take sole responsibility for causing the North American Blizzard of 2009?

      Your next example was an AA diversion into Boston. First off, you mention that 26 internation flights diverted to Logan, and Customs was packed. How is that AA’s fault? Was it 26 AA planes? Then, you mention that it took 1.5 hours for the bags to arrive…I used to live in Boston, and I’ve waited an hour for bags at KBOS on a calm day before. Logan’s baggage system is slow, and I imagine a couple of dozen unscheduled arrivals don’t speed things up any…again, not AA’s fault. Then, it took 2.5 hours to get a bus…I imagine that Boston doesn’t keep a fleet of buses around just to ferry folks (indeed, 26 planes worth) to far-off airports at the drop of the hat. Throw in some logistics time to find some empty buses and get them moving, then take into account that Boston traffic sucks, so nothing drives anywhere quickly there, and 2.5 hours doesn’t seem that unreasonable to me. Again, what is AA supposed to be accepting the blame for here?

      I’m not saying that airlines are always peachy clean in these situations, but nobody’s ever invented a machine to control the weather. Sometimes the airlines are at fault, and in those cases they owe apologies. However, I don’t think they owe apologies to folks just because they had a bad day, especially if they didn’t cause it and couldn’t do anything to mitigate. Weather happens…if you abosolutely need to get somewhere on time, accept the fact that delays happen, give yourself margin, and don’t ever travel the same day you need to get there.

  16. Steve says:

    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 bus to move 150 plus passengers from Newburgh to JFK. Its not exactly an urban center with buses right there on field.

  17. folsom97 says:

    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.

  18. dan powers says:

    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 says:

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

    • 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!

    • CF says:

      Richard Branson is not continuing to feed this airline money of his own. This is absolutely worth the cost since the PR value alone is probably higher than the cost. It was the crew issues, and other airlines would likely do the same.

  19. Anonymous says:

    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…

    • CF says:

      I actually tried that. I asked Virgin America to pass my contact information on to those people, but I have yet to hear from any of them.

  20. CF says:

    Virgin America has put up a very detailed PDF on its website of exactly what happened:
    http://www.virginamerica.com/html/official-flight-404-dot-report.pdf

    I also stand corrected. Since they ran out of food a couple hours in, it technically would have violated the 3 hour rule so they would actually have had to cancel the second they ran out of food despite having done everything else right.

  21. 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.

  22. Tim says:

    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 deplane. VX doesn’t have employees at Stewart, so they were relying on employees of the airport to escort people across the ramp. The only way out (again, since they were not at a gate) was an exit to an non-secure area. That means the passengers would have to be re-screened before getting back on the airplane. And there would be nobody inside the airport to verify that person should be able to get back onto the plane.

    Instead of just blaming the airline, why don’t you get the facts and use some logical thinking?

  23. Ron says:

    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 was in the 1990s, before Ovda opened up to regular commercial traffic). Within 30 minutes or so they were joined by 4 El-Al airplanes which had also diverted from Tel Aviv, all waiting patiently on the tarmac.

    When they were clear to go back to Tel Aviv, the El-Al pilots — all Israeli Air Force veterans — scrambled and left right away. The Air France pilot, unfamiliar with the area, took his time and ended up being the last one out, even though the plane was the first to divert.

    So, while being at an unfamiliar airport is no excuse for unprofessional behavior, it is clear that one should expect operations to go somewhat less smoothly.

  24. sjc user says:

    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.

  25. JayB says:

    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 and Colgan. Whatever!

    In this particular situation, surely there were many other cases of airlines having to divert. How is it only one flight, here Virgin 404, made the news. Were the others so much better in handling the situation and thus there was no need to make a “federal case” out of the diversions?

    Just checking Flightaware during that time, as an example, I saw Qantas 107, running its 744 tag-end LAX-JFK portion of its SYD-LAX route about the same time as Virgin 404. 107 made it to the New Jersey air space, circled around, then diverted down to Washington-Dulles, a place QF doesn’t serve. I’m sure QF doesn’t carry any local traffic on this route. I presume all custom formalities were handled at LAX. It appears that the 744 spent roughly 24 hours at IAD and then went on to JFK for the start of next day’s flight 108. Don’t how the PAX were treated at IAD or how they may have gotten to JFK. Anyone know of this case or any others to compare with the handling of Virgin 404?

    One other matter relating to pilots worrying about “losing their ATC slots” should PAX not be kept on the plane, or whatever. Not that it alleviates all the problems, 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.

    • CF says:

      Great questions, Jay. I can’t speak for all airlines, but in general, those airlines that have a larger presence have better diversion plans. Virgin America only flies to Boston, JFK, and Dulles in the northeast, so when they divert, they end up in airports where they don’t fly. At that point, you may have a plan but you really can’t have a foolproof plan for every single airport in the US. But someone else may fly to a lot of those airports so it makes things go more smoothly.

      The reality is that when you go to an airport where you don’t fly, things get dicey. That’s what happened with the ExpressJet flight in Rochester as well.

      As for the Qantas flight, you’re right that there are no locals and they go through customs in LA. My guess is that they probably canceled the flight and sent passenger an alternate way, but I don’t know the details. Why did the Virgin America flight get more attention? Seems clear to me. They had the CEO of a social networking flight onboard! He was taking pictures and posting videos, so it was easy for the news media to pick up on this one. I think Maarten is right with what he said in the comments above.

    • Anonymous says:

      …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 “wheels-up” time). So, if an ABC-JFK flight diverts to XYZ, the diversion will still get an EDCT for the eventual XYZ-JFK flight, but be given priority over and scheduled flights XYZ-JFK.
      ———————————————————————–

      ATCSCC ADVZY 064 DCC 03/13/2010
      EWR/JFK/LGA/ZNY DIVERSION RECOVERY
      MESSAGE:
      THE ATCSCC HAS ACTIVATED THE DIVERSION RECOVERY TOOL
      FOR EWR/JFK/LGA. CUSTOMERS SHOULD ENSURE THAT DVRSN IS INCLUDED
      IN FLIGHT PLAN REMARKS OF DIVERTED AIRCRAFT. NOTE THAT IF THERE IS A GROUND DELAY PROGRAM OR GROUND STOP IN EFFECT FOR THE DESTINATION AIRPORT DIVERTED FLIGHTS ARE NOT AUTOMATICALLY EXEMPT AND WILL STILL RECEIVE AN EDCT.

  26. f9ohio says:

    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 personal notes. Maybe Justin doesn’t understand that most airlines will code weather delays on anything reasonable close to avoid responsibility. You could still be in LAX trying stand-by for a flight as i’m typing this, or possible dropped of in Ithaca or worse as you watch your plane fly away and really be “left on you own.” As far as the “terrified” thing goes, sure I can see that, for the kids on the aircraft. It’s not the middle of bogata with a pair of boxer briefs and no passport, get a grip.

  27. f9ohio says:

    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 says:

      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.

  28. Jimmy says:

    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!!!!!!!!

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