Aviation & Space Law

Freak NE Snowstorm Strands Air Passengers on Tarmac, Testing New DOT Regs, and Closes Courthouses

An unusual October snowstorm wreaked havoc on northeastern states, stranding passengers of multiple airplanes on the tarmac for more than seven hours over the weekend and closing a number of courthouses today.

The situation was exacerbated by a record number of power outages, and it is expected to take over a week to restore electric service to all users, the Hartford Courant reports. The newspaper said at least some courthouses in Enfield, Manchester, Middletown, Litchfield, Tolland and Torrington are closed today.

Two JetBlue flights bound for New York airports were diverted to Bradley International Airport in Hartford, Conn., where passengers spent over seven hours on the planes, which ran out of food and restroom facilities, before finally being allowed to deplane. A total of 17 planes loaded with passengers sat on the runway up to 10 hours, in a test of the new Airline Passenger Bill of Rights, which limits such waits to three hours for domestic flights and four hours for international flights, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported.

Officials blamed the delay on a large number of diverted flights because of the storm. JetBlue apologized and promised to refund passengers the cost of their tickets, plus credit their frequent flyer accounts with mileage equivalent to the cost of a second flight.

The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating the long wait on the tarmac and the U.S. Department of Transportation has the power to levy administrative penalities for violations of its regulations. However, as a practical matter, what JetBlue offered is about all most passengers are likely to get, says attorney Tod Aronovitz of Miami.

“It’s unfortunate, but it’s the only remedy available for passengers,” he stated. “The passengers have a right to file an administrative grievance with DOT. Other than that, it’s up to anything the passenger can negotiate with JetBlue.”

Related material:

ABAJournal.com: “Hot, Tired, Hungry and Stuck on Plane: Passengers are Ready for Reform”

Los Angeles Times: “U.S. expands protections for airline passengers”

U.S. Department of Transportation: “U.S. Department of Transportation Expands Airline Passenger Protections”

Middle Seat Terminal (Wall Street Journal): “Strikes and Storms: World-wide Airline Disruptions Make It Hard to Fly”

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