Eight Hour Ground Delay in the Hartford Snow Storm (Trip Report) (Guest Post)

Remember that October snowstorm and the meltdown that followed in Hartford? This woman and her husband were stuck in the thick of it. Here’s a great read about their experiences along the way.

In late October, my husband and I enjoyed a fabulous vacation in Europe. We managed to see 4 different countries, caught up with friends, and experienced as much as we could in a short time. Little did we know what was in store for us on our voyage home.

Passing the Time in the Hartford Snowstorm

Our flight from Paris to New York was circling in the weather when the pilot informed us we were heading to Hartford, Connecticut. We’d been in the air an hour past our arrival time, and the urgency to land was apparent. We finally landed in Hartford, being told we would get back in the air as soon as possible to get to JFK.

My husband and I turned on our phones and checked AA for our reroute. We found ourselves booked out of LaGuardia on Monday morning. It was Saturday. This COULDN’T be right. Angry, I called American and waited on hold for 20 minutes to find out most of the flights at JFK were canceled and Monday was clearly the best they can do for us right now. I was encouraged to call back. Irate, I hung up the phone. My husband and I started to process the information, and to understand the spot we were in. The snow was piling up on the wings. The captain gave updates:

430p: Pilot tells us we will be here for a little while to get refueled and then de-iced
5p: Pilot says we are next in line
530p: Pilot tells us they only have one fuel and de-ice truck working so it will be awhile. He also tells us if we don’t leave by 550p his flight day is done and we have to stay here in Hartford for the night. “In my over 20 years of flying planes I can tell you that I cannot take off with slush on the runway. Folks, I’m looking at an inch of slush on the runway and there is no equipment working to clear it.”
6p: Pilot tells us that we know we are here for the night and still no news on fuel or de-ice. The pilot seems more upset, but tells us the airline is working to find hotels for us.

At this point my husband got angry. The American app on our phone still showed us leaving LaGuardia on Monday morning, so he called American. We had a new strategy and asked about flights out of Hartford on Sunday. He was told the first flight we could get on was around 10p. This seemed absurd to us, he hangs up still angry but feeling better after doing something about it. This was a lesson we learned: Do something with your anger. Don’t sit and stew.

7p: Pilot tells us that there is only 1 international gate here and that there are no customs officials to deplane us. Therefore we have to stay on plane
8p: Pilot tells us that we will be heading to the gate to deplane.
820p: Pilot tells us that he isn’t sure if we’ll get to gate, he tells us getting information out of these people is like pulling teeth
9p: Pilot says we are going to head to another gate and then we will deplane and be held in the terminal area by that gate since we can’t go anywhere until we clear customs
915p: Pilot tells us that we will wait to get the international gate but we can not get off plane until everyone from the Swiss flight in front of us clears customs. All 300 of them.

At this point I was on the phone with American. I booked that flight out at 10p, hoping that when we got on the ground I could make something better happen.

We’d been given snacks and water regularly while we were sitting on the tarmac for 8 hours. The bathrooms were functioning. The mood was patient on the plane, which was surprising. In the row in front of us, a single mom had been entertaining her year-old daughter. This mother had worked HARD all trip, and the baby had been none the wiser of our predicament. We were honestly in awe of her patience and ingenuity to keep that baby happy. Lesson #2: It could still be worse. We were trying to get home to our own children, and could fully appreciate how different this experience would have been if our children were trapped there with us.

1020p: Pilot tells us that we are going to the gate
1025p: Pilot tells us the power is out in the terminal so the gate isn’t working, we will have to exit on tarmac
1050p: Doors open and we can deplane
11p: We enter customs area
1130p: We clear customs — without our bags. Can we even do that?
1140p: We get to baggage area and are told that our bags can’t be taken off the plane because they don’t have equipment at this airport for our size plane and shuttles will be coming to bus us to the other terminal
1150p: We bus over to other terminal
midnight: We arrive at terminal to find a spot to sleep
1215a: We are lucky enough to find spot where they are first giving out cots and sheets for sleeping
1230a: We settle in to sleep. Here’s a video of the sleeping situation in the ticketing area at the Hartford airport:

1a: 6’7″ 350 lb Bostonian decides to pull up a cot next to us and shake the windows with his snoring
2a: Windows still shaking and many people are awake
4a: We wake up for the day
7a: We get to American counter.

While in line to speak to the lone American employee, we witnessed some interesting drama. The Europeans from our flight got angry. First a few men were angry at the only employee trying to help us. Then they turned on themselves. A French lady in the crowd started chastising the lead man who was giving the employee a hard time. “It is not her fault!” she told him. The French lady brought calm to the crowd, and we resumed our spaces in line. The man in front of us sat next to my husband on the plane. We knew he was French and was trying to get to Cleveland. He gave the American employee a hard time.

He was put back on our flight, which left for JFK that afternoon, and arrived 45 minutes before his connection to Chicago, where he would then have to figure out his flight to Cleveland. She told him this was the best she could do. We also needed to get to Chicago, and when it was our turn we suggested the same itinerary. She admitted to us that there was no real chance of making that connection and thought our plan to fly from Hartford to O’Hare directly was a better one. She printed our boarding passes to Chicago. Lesson # 3 — being nice pays. We again questioned if we could get our luggage. She confirmed we would be abandoning it to fly home from there.

We took our tickets and passed through security 15 hours early…

11a: See there are 2 spots open on flight to Chicago at 2pm, I call American Airlines and get us booked…We will be home by 4pm
130p: We board the flight
2p: We take off for Chicago…
4p (Chicago Time): We land in Chicago!!!!

After some time had passed, we remembered more of the fabulous experiences on our trip and less about the unfortunate circumstances of our return. The airline had compensated us with vouchers and miles.

We will fly again, we have already booked a trip for the whole family. I will not boycott a single airline, because I saw planes from every airline I could fly stuck in the same predicament. I vow to fly directly whenever possible. We love to travel and experience new places, and this bad experience will not keep us from enjoying our hobby. We will be smart and prepared for our next trip in February. Wish us luck!


Corry Stanley lives in the Chicago suburbs with her 2 and 4 year old sons, husband of nearly ten years, and two rescue dogs. She’s a native Wisconsinite, lifelong Packer fan, and an IT professional. She tweets infrequently at @corry_s.

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