JetBlue Issues Apology Over 7 Hour Tarmac Delay

AP Photo

JetBlue has issued an apology after a flight from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to Newark, N.J. left travelers stranded on the tarmac at the wrong airport for more than seven hours.

Rob Maruster, Jet Blue’s chief operating officer, made the apology in a video message posted on Monday while the U.S. Transportation Department began investigating why more than 100 passengers on Saturday’s flight were left onboard the plane without food, water or functioning bathrooms.

In the video Maruster states that JetBlue had six flights diverted to Hartford, Connecticut’s Bradley Airport over the weekend because of “various runway congestion and other operational issues at Newark and JFK airports.”

“We did not deplane those aircraft in our target time allotted,” Maruster says. “At no point this weekend was safety ever compromised in our decision making — whether it was our customers and our crew members —  in fact, safety was their No. 1 concern.”

“At JetBlue you count on us for a lot more, and we promise a lot more,” Maruster continued. “We know we let some of you down … for that we are truly sorry.”

Maruster also said that JetBlue planned to fully participate with the Department of Transportation in cooperating with its investigation while  it conducts its own internal evaluation.

If the government determines that any airline violated the tarmac delay rule, that carrier could be fined as much as $27,500 per passenger.

On Saturday the JetBlue pilot aboard the Newark-bound plane ultimately had to call airport officials and pleaded with them to send police, telling them he “can’t seem to get any help from our own company” after his New Jersey-bound plane was diverted to Bradley Airport.

The plane touched down in Hartford around 1:30 p.m. Saturday. Once on the ground, the plane did not move until 9 p.m.

Once diverted the plane was to land in Hartford, fuel up and fly back to Newark, assuming the glide slope equipment — a signal light that jets lock onto as they approach for landing — would be up and running again, JetBlue officials said Sunday. The passengers were told this repeatedly while on the tarmac in Hartford.

However, that plan had to be altered because once Flight 504 landed at Hartford, the airport had been inundated with diverted flights.

“The airport infrastructure was just overwhelmed,” JetBlue spokeswoman Jenny Dervin said Sunday.

The incident comes four years after JetBlue issued its “Customer Bill of Rights,” following a February 2007 organizational meltdown that led to the cancellation and delay of a massive number of its flights. The series of cancellations, caused by a major Valentine’s Day storm, left passengers stranded on the tarmac for 11 hours before they were allowed back into the terminal.

The fallout from the incident led consumer rights groups to push for a government- mandated airline passenger Bill of Rights to protect flyers against similar experiences.