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

American, Guest Posts, Trip Reports

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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28 comments on “Eight Hour Ground Delay in the Hartford Snow Storm (Trip Report) (Guest Post)

  1. Of course “deplane” is a word! The word was originally introduced to the American lexicon in 1978 by the late Hervé Villechaize who would run out, point to the sky in each episode of “Fantasy Island” and exhort, “Deplane boss! Deplane!”

  2. I’d have rather slept at the airport that night, rather than in my house (.5 mi from Bradley) with the trees ready to fall and break through the house. Crazy to hear about people stuck there.

    1. I almost did. My day ended with a layover in the Northeast that night. My crew went outside to wait for the hotel van to take us to our layover. It never showed. We tried calling, no answer. Apparently, the city had brown outs and the hotel was not accepting guests. My crew called the company which tried for several HOURS to get us in somewhere. My Capt was getting irate, saying he would ferry the plane out because he and his crew were NOT sleeping on the floor at the airport. After several HOURS we finally found a hotel, an hour away. My layover turned into a minimum overnight. I got maybe 6 hours of sleep.
      Several weeks later, I had a passenger on my flight who had endured the tarmac delay in BDL. He was flying Jetblue. His story involved passengers being very irate towards the crew onboard. He said he felt bad for them. While I never take that behavior personal, I do have to take it into consideration when it becomes a threat to the flight. (in this case, it was due to the tarmac delay).
      Corry, I like your last paragraph. You’re from Chicago and Wisconsin. YOU better know how to deal with snow and it’s consequences. Right? Personally, I try and never go through ORD, BUF, etc during the winter months. Hate the weather delays!
      Great trip report.

      1. Safe to say, we didn’t anticipate a snow storm in of this magnitude in October.

        When you are on the plane, dependant upon the captain for updates, it’s easy to feel isolated. Using our phones, we were reading the local news and understood that the entire NE area of the country was getting hammered by the storm. Getting off the plane was one thing, but where were we going to go? The roads weren’t cleared, half the state of CT was without power. You’d honestly think it never snowed in this area of the country, based upon the response to this storm.

        @Frank, you are right. We hear local Chicago news about delays at ORD all the time. As we watched the snow pile up on the wings, we knew our options were limited.

        One of the strategies we discussed was renting a car. I heard folks in the airport saying the rental companies weren’t even renting cars. The roads were unsafe.

        1. Not trying to justify the crappy response from the towns and power company, but the problem here was having extremely wet, heavy snow falling on trees still covered in leaves. So in that regard it was pretty much an unprecedented storm.

          Bradley is typically pretty good about running during snow storms, so I guess maybe the power outage somehow prevented them from keeping the runways working?

  3. I am trying to do the math to add up to 80 hours of delay but even with 4 years of college and an engineering degree I cant make it work…..maybe a banker or finance guy could show me how?

  4. Captain Obvious I was thinking the same, best I can come up with would be 50+ hours if they had waited until the Monday flights they were rebooked on. But 80+? No idea!

  5. I’m not sure where the Eighty hours comes in either, we were delayed for approximately 24 hours on the ground at Bradley.

    Thanks, @Jon — your comment almost makes me feel better! I have to say, I’m not excited to return to Hartford anytime soon!

  6. I’m thinking people who lived where it snows can handle the sitiuation better then someone from say Phoenix.

    People need to open their eyes more and keep their mouths shut more during times like this. If you are the only plane stranded it’s one thing, but if you see all the planes around you in the same situation, what exactly would you expect to have done? Stay calm and just deal with it. Getting angry isn’t going to melt the snow, move all the other airplanes out of the way, make the power come back on, etc.

  7. It was completely unsafe to drive at that time. I live a half hour south of BDL but grew up five minutes from there. Some of my friends were without power for nine days. The snow was heavier and wetter than expected. With leaves on the trees, a lot of power lines were brought down when the snow fell and again when it melted.

    I was stuck on a US RJ for nine hours a few years SFO due to fog in Philly. Everyone kept their composure then and I’m glad people did it on your flight. There’s only so much a crew can do in this situation.

    1. Exactly. Yes, it’s an inconvenience but really, when passengers moan, “I just want to get home” it is soooooo worn out. No kidding, you really want to get home?…..I thought you wanted to be stranded/ “trapped” here till Monday.

      Again, this is a perfect of example of a big complainer and her husband who can’t think out of the box. I would have hit the ground running and made my way to New York by train, bus, whatever it took – IF I felt the need to rush and hurry around or COMMON SENSE would dictate that I ASK about other flights that fly nonstop to Chicago. Wow, what a revelation that would be – it’s calling thinking !

  8. Nice report!

    1. Customs without bags? I guess so. I mean in other countries they do the green channel/red channel thing and normally there’s no staff or anything in the green channel.

    2. This is why we need airports like PIT and DTW that have competent snow clearing people and machines and vast gate space for widebodies. Hartford just doesn’t cut it. They need to reevaluate their equipment if they want to be a diversion point for JFK. I don’t care if I get my bags a couple days later, but I expect to get of the plane in an hour or two.

    3. Airlines need some sort of sharing agreements for gates and such. I was on a DL DTW-BWI and we landed in fine weather yet our jetbridge was broken, so we had to wait for the 757 ahead of us to unload. Why didn’t we use some other airline’s gates (WN had 5 open)? Just this cost us 1 hour waiting on the taxiway (the flight itself was only 1 hour 5 min).

    1. The WN jetways are only configured for 737’s since that is all they fly. There are no lines on the tarmac to indicated where another plane should park etc. Parking a plane at a jetway is not like putting the car in a garage. And no WN employee driving a WN jetway wants to risk denting and damaging another airline’s airplane.

      1. Richard,

        Not always the case with “737” jetways… if a jetway is owned/managed by the airport than anyone with a proper badge/jetway training can use it. Its only when the airline itself *owns* the jetway can no one else use it (Airport signatory leases typically spell out that other airlines can use gates in emergency with permission)…. Most jetways can only go “so high” and a 757 is only about 2 feet higher than a 737… but a smaller jetway couldn’t reach a 747, for example. You are correct about the print lines, but most non-hub (or uber large) airports typically have the most common fleet types posted if they will fit (ie – some gates you physically can’t get a 777 in there due to wingspan or it will jut out into the taxiway).

        1. Yeah in this case I was on a DL A319 and BWI’s gates are owned by the state of Maryland leased out to the different airlines. While an A319 is much higher, my guess is neither DL or WN wanted to deal with liabilities. I guess that’s what we get for living in a litigious society :)

  9. I don’t understand the need to keep people on the plane for 4 extra hours because of Customs. DHS should be subject to the same rules that the airlines are – either clear people promptly or let them in without being examined. Since no one who boarded this flight had any idea that they would be experiencing this delay, there is no risk of a terrorist somehow slipping in. What’s the big deal if 150 passengers, who already gave their passport info to DHS in Paris and were subject to computer review, enter the country without speaking to an officer?

  10. This is a perfect example of a passenger and her husband who just can’t accept that things happen….things (nature) out of everyone’s control. I just love her lesson #3 – “be nice”……what an airhead. Any agent with an ounce of sense would have gotten her nonstop to Chicago, if even on another airline – it had nothing to do with her being nice. Why would she (the passenger) even suggest the original routing through JFK without first asking about any nonstops. Apparently Corry and her husband don’t travel much.

  11. The key to being a good traveler is to be able to roll with the inevitable bumps and interruptions. Some people in these situations need to get zen and realize there’s no point to getting angry if you can’t do anything about it. It should be obvious when there’s a major weather event (aka “Act of God”), yelling at the gate agent is not going to get you home any sooner. She or he can’t make new seat inventory magically appear from nothing.

  12. Nice report Corry_S! I agree with you; it does pay to be nice. Who’d have thunk one would have to worry about a snow storm of all things in October! Good luck with your trip in February!

  13. And you wonder why the airlines get suc a bad rap. Right or wrong, AirlineEmployee’s post just reinforces that.

    1. i think what AirlineEmployee is trying to communicate is the lack of understanding from the average traveler. usually it seems like no matter what effort a frontline employee puts in during a situation like this, it’s met by this-is-unacceptable type responses. it’s pretty difficult to motivate someone to put on a happy face and give their best effort when passengers are champing at the bit to ram it back down “the airlines'” throat.

      1. Yes, but he’s communicating it in a rude and condescending way, which is how some (many?) airline employees communicate with the public these days. I don’t expect the pilots and maintenance people to be constantly smiley and cheerful, but those on the Customer Service end of the organization should be – that’s their job!

  14. I know there are real problems when a whole region has weather problems, but surely arriving international flights could be given priority to get diverted to airports with better Customs facilities, and earlier in the progress of the flight, when there are better options. Without Customs and Immigration clearance, passengers and crew are stuck in the plane throughout any ground delay: with it they can be free to make other arrangements.

  15. BDL (and PVD) are great airports for avoiding the hell that is Boston and NYC airports but not “International” gateways. I would not want to be stuck there trying to deplane, clear customs, etc.

    Several years ago I was in Philadelphia when they had a snowstorm that cancelled every flight. The airlines were all giving me the song and dance about the nearest available time to get out being 3 days away. Being from MN and having absolutely no fear of driving in snow and ice (people in PA weren’t very skilled in that dept) I just rented a car and started driving west. Working on a cell phone I found that PIT had no good options, nor Cleveland. Eventually made it to Chicago and caught a flight out of Midway. Planes, trains or automobile, I’m getting home.

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