Flightmare: LAX To JFK Flight Takes 16 Hours, Chips Rationed

March 16, 2010 New York Post, by JEREMY OLSHAN

They were supposed to be taking a direct flight from LAX to JFK — but wound up on a 16-hour nightmare tour by air and bus of New York state.

Before finally arriving at their destination, the starving passengers of jinxed Virgin America Flight 404 had been stranded on a tarmac for seven hours and forced to ride a bus for another 2½ hours.
At one point, food supplies aboard the plane were so low that Pringles chips had to be rationed: four chips apiece, furious passengers told The Post. “That’s all we got — four chips and half a cup of water,” said disgusted flier Justin Gordon, 23.

Flight 404 had left LA at 7:10 a.m. (PST) — 10:10 a.m. New York time — Saturday and was due to arrive at JFK at 3:30 p.m. But because of 60-mph winds here, the plane was forced to circle JFK until it was finally diverted to Stewart Airport in Newburgh — 90 miles north — for a 5:15 p.m. landing. There, the plane remained on the tarmac until close to midnight, passengers say. The airline said the wait was more like 4½ hours.

Either way, passengers were growing increasingly frustrated — with one woman suffering a panic attack. She was escorted off by police. The remaining cranky passengers included Carrie Ann Inaba of “Dancing with the Stars,” the CEO of a social-networking firm who made videos and Twitter posts throughout the ordeal, and three screaming babies.
The captain and flight crew seemed to be overwhelmed, too, said David Martin, CEO of Kontain.com, who posted the frequent updates online.

“One guy said he had a question, and the flight attendant started shouting at this guy, ‘You are really getting on my freaking nerves! You need to shut the hell up!’ ” Martin said. He added, “Carrie Anne and I tried to bring cookies on the plane to the mothers with babies, and the flight attendants started snapping at us.”

The passengers’ white knight finally arrived — in the form of JetBlue. Contacted by the Virgin America captain because JetBlue has facilities at Stewart and Virgin doesn’t, the competing airline sent over staffers, who boarded the plane.
“Ladies and gentleman, we’re here to get you off the plane,” a JetBlue employee said to cheers. JetBlue arranged for buses to transport the passengers to Kennedy. Exhausted, the riders finally arrived at 2 a.m. — actually, 3 a.m. because of the changeover to Daylight Savings Time.

Adding insult to injury, the Virgin plane had left Stewart empty — and beat the passengers back to JFK. After seeing Martin’s posts and videos the next day, Virgin America CEO David Cush called him and Inaba to apologize, promising a full refund and $100 credit to all passengers.

2 comments for “Flightmare: LAX To JFK Flight Takes 16 Hours, Chips Rationed

  1. March 16, 2010 at 9:26 am

    The irony of the bus solution is that the aircraft actually ended up flying from SWF to JFK at 12:23am Sunday morning, arriving just before 1am and two hours before the passengers driving down on the buses.

    I suppose Virgin America is lucky that the new DoT rules aren’t in effect yet. That would have been a $3MM diversion. Ouch.

  2. Martha
    March 17, 2010 at 7:28 am

    Virgin America CEO apologizes to fliers stuck on 16-hour flight

    3/17/2010 7:56:00 AM from USA TODAY
    Virgin America’s CEO on Tuesday apologized to passengers who endured a grueling trip from Los Angeles to New York this past weekend. Departing from Los Angeles at 7:10 a.m. ET on Saturday, Virgin America Flight 404 was scheduled for about five hours – but it took more 16 hours until passengers finally arrived at New York JFK. High winds and poor weather in New York forced the flight to divert Newburgh Stewart Airport, about 90 miles north of New York.
    That’s where the plane was apparently stuck on the ground for nearly seven hours before passengers finally were put on busses for a 2.5-hour ride to JFK. The eventual arrival time: 3 a.m ET on Sunday morning. The New York Post writes “at one point, food supplies aboard the plane were so low that Pringles chips had to be rationed: four chips apiece, furious passengers told The Post.”
    Some passengers say the flight crew seemed to be near the breaking point. Passenger David Martin tells ABC News that “the flight crew started to freak out, to have some problems with how they were dealing with the passengers on the flight… Basically they ended up snapping at passengers when they tried to get off.” One attendant is said to have told a passenger to “shut the hell up.” Virgin America says passengers were allowed to leave the plane while at Stewart Airport.

    NBC Los Angeles says “the Virgin America flight crew eventually contacted JetBlue, which has facilities at Stewart Airport. JetBlue then provided buses that carried the passengers to JFK” in the middle of the night. The Post says that when the busses arrived to transport the Virgin America customers, a JetBlue employee boarded the jet saying: “Ladies and gentleman, we’re here to get you off the plane.” The employee was greeted with cheers, according to the Post.
    The Post writes “adding insult to injury, the Virgin plane had left Stewart empty — and beat the passengers back to JFK.”
    The ordeal prompted a response from Virgin America CEO David Cush, who sent a letter of apology to each of the affected passengers on Tuesday. He offered a refund as well as a $100 credit to each of the passengers, according to ABC. “We pride ourselves on putting the well-being of our travelers first and making sure that, in stressful situations, we put our guests at ease. We clearly failed this on your flight.”
    How were Cush’s apology efforts received? ABC says one customer, who had been chronicling her ordeal on Facebook, concluded with this post on the social networking site: “Thank you Virgin America for responding so quickly and appropriately to what occurred on Flt 404 on Saturday. … This is why I am and will always be a loyal customer of Virgin America. Thank you.”

Comments are closed.