The Department of Transportation's Aviation Consumer Protection division is investigating Jet Blue's handling of Flight 504, which was left for dead on a snowy tarmac in Hartford, Connecticut for seven and a half hours on Saturday. Passengers on the plane included a paraplegic from Staten Island who had to use urological supplies to relieve himself because the bathrooms were clogged, a diabetic, and several unhappy children. Good times! LiveATC.net obtained the cockpit recording, in which you can hear the pilot desperately pleading for help, at point begging: "We just need a tug and a tow bar. If you just give me a welding shop, I'd be happy to weld one myself."
The Staten Island man, Jimmy Brown, talked to the Advance about the ordeal, during which he was stuck in his seat from about 1:30 p.m. to about 10:30 p.m., later than most other passengers, who were able to leave around 9 p.m. "People in this condition, you can't be confined to an airplane seat for that many hours," he tells the Advance. "I understand there was snow and we couldn't go too far, but you have to get people to safety. Sitting in a plane is not safe... I don't think anybody should be treated this way, not to mention someone like me."
The Passenger Bill of Rights, which was created after a Jet Blue flight was stranded at JFK for nearly 11 hours, is supposed to require airlines to let passengers off a plane after three hours on the tarmac. But Flight 504's pilot would not allow passengers to leave, and he had no luck getting the airport to tow the plane to a gate. "Look, you know we can't seem to get any help from our own company, I apologize for this, but is there any way you can get a tug and a tow bar out here to us and get us towed somewhere to a gate or something," the pilot pleads on the cockpit recording. "I don't care. Take us anywhere."
The flight was supposed to land at Newark, but the inclement weather prevented the plane from landing. One passenger tells ABC that the pilot caused a panic when he told the 100 passengers on board that "they only had 30 minutes of fuel left but Bradley Airport, where the plane was diverted to, is about an hour away. He then got back on PA system to calm them down, and clarify they did in fact have enough fuel to reach Bradley."
There they waited for seven hours, with promises offered every 45 minutes or so that a tug was coming to take them to a gate. Ultimately, state troopers and emergency crews brought stairs to the plane, and the passengers descended to buses. Brown was one of the last to be removed, and the Advance reports that when he finally got off the plane he had to fight to get his medical supplies and wheelchair out of the cargo hold. But at least Jet Blue bought him and the other passengers dinner... though it did take a while. "I waited an hour and fifteen minutes for McDonald's," Brown recalls. But hey, good food takes time!
If the Transportation's Aviation Consumer Protection division finds that Jet Blue violated the Passenger Bill of Rights, the airline could be fined as much as $27,500 per passenger. The airline has apologized for the incident, and says, "We worked with the airport to secure services, including remote deplaning and lav servicing. Obviously, we would have preferred deplaning much sooner than we did, but our flights were six of the 23 reported diversion into Hartford, including international flights. The airport experienced intermittent power outages, which made refueling and jetbridge deplaning difficult."