Virgin America Flight's Grueling Delay Compounded by Surly Staff

A cross-country flight turns into a massive delay for passengers.

March 16, 2010, 11:21 AM

March 16, 2010— -- The low point in a hellish 19 hour Los Angeles to New York flight during the last weekend's storm came when the cabin crew came through and offered the starving passengers a choice of meals: either four or five Pringles or a tiny cup of almonds.

The passengers aboard Virgin America's flight 404 were among the most put upon victims of this weekend's torrential rain storm.

The flight left California at 10:34 a.m. ET on Saturday and was due to land at New York storm lashed JFK airport at 3:35 p.m. ET, a five hour flight.

But it wasn't until 2 a.m. Sunday when the hungry, thirsty and exhausted passengers finally arrived in New York -- by bus.

During the ordeal, the passengers were given water and some Pringles. And plenty of guff from the plane's crew.

"We were diverted and everyone was fine about that. It's just a bummer," passenger David Martin told ABC News.

"But 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," Martin said.

"One of the flight attendants told a passenger to 'shut the hell up' and that they were 'getting on their nerves.' It wasn't that 'oh god were stuck in the plane for hours.' It was how the flight crew was handling the situation. They were not handling it well at all," he said.

Uana Coccoloni was posting on Facebook during the ordeal.

"Can't get off, they won't taxi to the terminal so that we can get out, no food and we are going to JFK no matter what time it can't be okay to have people sitting on the plane for 4 hours and what will likely be many more. Aren't there laws about this? VA gets a big thumbs down today," she posted.

Coccoloni went back to venting about 30 minutes later, writing, "Virgin....I've now been stuck on the tarmac for 4-1/2 hours. Don't you think you should let us out??"

Law student Justin Gordon said hunger and thirst began to take its toll.

"People just started to get upset," Gordon told ABC News. "There was no food, no water for like two and a half hours. One of the flight attendants walked by...I said, 'Excuse me,' he didn't respond. I said excuse me again and then he finally looked at me and I said 'You know, I'm really hungry. I haven't eaten since this morning is there any food that I can buy or anything?' He said 'No…sorry, there's no food.'

"And then about a half hour later they came around with little cups with about four or five Pringles in them and maybe a different one with 10 almonds and a little cup of have a choice between Pringles or a tiny cup of almonds," he said.

Virgin America CEO David Cush sent an apology letter today to each of the passengers and promised to refund their fares. He also called passengers including Martin and "Dancing with the Stars" host Carrie-Ann Inaba, who was also on the flight.

Virgin America Offers Refunds and $100 Credits

"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," Cush wrote.

Virgin's flight 404 headed into New York's stormy weather at a time when winds were gusting up to 60 mph. After an extended amount of time circling, flight 404 was diverted to Stewart Airport, 60 miles north of the city.

There the plane languished on the tarmac for at least 4.5 hours. Passengers claim they stuck on the tarmac even longer. The plane ran out of food, and extra water had to be brought on board.

During this time guests were able to leave the aircraft via air stairs and several opted to do so. For those who chose to stay, the wait was grueling.

Eventually, the passengers were put on buses and driven into New York City, arriving about 2 a.m.

In his letter, Cush said, "There are many things that I could tell you to try to explain the situation and provide more context. Certainly, the weather at JFK was dreadful and flights were being diverted for most of the day. We also are not equipped to handle flights at Stewart."

"But, ultimately, it is our responsibility to ensure that our guests are handled with the care and respect that they deserve when they buy a ticket on our airline," he wrote.

Cush's public relations effort seemed to work. Coccoloni, posted her appreciation on Facebook.

"Thank you Virgin America for responding so quickly and appropriately to what occurred on Flt 404 on Saturday," she wrote. Citing her refund, a $100 credit for her next flight, the letter and phone call, she wrote, "This is why I am and will always be a loyal customer of Virgin America. Thank you."

ABC's Matt Hosford and Ron Claiborne contributed to this report.

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