Flights forced to wait on tarmac overnight at JFK

December 28, 2010 2:13:14 PM PST
Four international flights were apparently forced to wait on the tarmac overnight at Kennedy Airport, one for at least eight hours.

The overnight delay was caused by a combination of weather and miscommunications about a handful of flights expected to land at the airport.

The flights, all international, arrived at Kennedy Airport sometime before midnight.

One of the flights was British Airways Flight 183 Heathrow to Kennedy Airport. The flight landed at 10:30 p.m., but passengers weren't let off until 5 a.m. Tuesday.

The plane could not access the gate when it landed because the ramp area at Terminal 7 had not been completely plowed.

Once the area was plowed, British Airways discovered that the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents assigned to Terminal 7 had left their terminal for the night. That may have been because there were so few flights coming in and they thought they were no longer needed.

At any rate, airport officials acknowledged there was a miscommunication.

Under normal circumstances, the flight should have been directed to another terminal, one with customs screening. However, because of snow and general weather congestion at the other terminals, none had a gate that could take the plane.

Without customs agents to accept them, the 300 passengers waited on the heated plane and were served food until the morning shift of customs agents arrived at 5 a.m.

At least three other flights had similar problems. They were:

  • Cathay Pacific Airways 830. Hong Kong to Kennedy Airport, landed at 11:03 p.m. Passengers disembarked at 8:45 a.m.
  • Cathay Pacific Airways 840. Bangkok to Kennedy Airport, landed at 7:45 p.m. Passengers disembarked at 7:45 a.m.
  • Aeromexico's Flight 404 Mexico City to Kennedy, landed at 1:15 a.m., passengers disembarked at around 7:45 a.m. Passengers had to wait another three hours in the terminal for an unrelated baggage problem.

    "It was sort of beyond our control," British Airways spokesman John Lampl said of Flight 183. "This was an extraordinary storm...It was uncomfortable...Our passengers are understanding. We will take everyone complaints on an individual basis."

    Matthew Bishop, a writer with Economist and one of the passengers, noted in an interview with CNN that most of the passengers were just happy to have landed at Kennedy Airport.