Storm again strands fliers

This time, JetBlue took no chances. Other airlines were affected by a shortage of deicing fluid.

Published March 18, 2007

NEW YORK - Hundreds of passengers were stranded for hours overnight on airliners that couldn't take off from John F. Kennedy International Airport because of the ice and snow storm that pummeled the Northeast.

The exact number of planes stuck on the tarmac was unclear, but irate passengers reported that the problems seemed to affect several airlines, and may have been linked to shortages of deicing fluid at the airport.

Rahul Chandran said he was trapped aboard a Cathay Pacific Airways jet from midnight until nearly 9:30 a.m. Saturday, when the flight to Vancouver was finally canceled.

Throughout the night, the pilot repeatedly described problems with deicing equipment, including a lack of fluid, that kept the plane waiting endlessly to have its wings sprayed. When the airline finally gave up and tried to return the plane to its terminal, it took at least another hour to arrange a gate, he said.

"You can't keep your passengers on the plane for 9 1/2 hours," said Chandran, 30, of New York City. "They kept saying 'half an hour more, 45 minutes more.' But by the time it got to hour six, we were pretty much accepting that we weren't going to go. ... At least in the terminal, you can get up and walk around."

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the metropolitan area's airports, said airlines - not the airport - are responsible for supplying and maintaining terminal deicing equipment.

From Friday to Saturday morning, more than 3,600 commuter and mainline flights were canceled because of the effects of the storm. JetBlue, US Airways, Delta Air Lines and American Airlines reported cancellations.

A Virgin Atlantic flight from London was diverted to JFK when the weather temporarily closed Boston's airport Friday. The plane, with about 200 passengers on board, sat on a taxiway for about six hours before it could take off again, said Virgin spokeswoman Brooke Lawer.

The plane, which was to arrive in Boston at 6:30 p.m. Friday, finally touched down there at 4 a.m. Saturday.

Last month, JetBlue stranded passengers on several planes for up to 10 1/2 hours during the Valentine's Day storm. Normal operations took days to resume.

This time, JetBlue canceled about 400 of 550 of all scheduled flights across the country Friday because of the weather, rather than risk leaving more people stuck aboard idle planes.