United Airlines is reviewing a California-bound flight that sat full of passengers for more than seven hours at Chicago O'Hare last weekend amid an ice storm.
The incident came less than two weeks after a Valentine's Day ice storm in New York stranded hundreds of passengers aboard planes at John F. Kennedy Airport for up to 10 hours. Nine flights operated by JetBlue, the largest JFK airline, sat for six hours or more, prompting calls for legislation to prevent recurrences.
Chicago-based United, the USA's No.2 airline, confirmed Thursday that a Saturday flight to San Francisco with 181 passengers aboard sat from before 5 p.m. until after midnight. During that time, the Boeing 757 was de-iced three times and repeatedly waited in line for takeoff until the pilots gave up and canceled the flight.
"We apologize for the length of time one of our flights was on hold with passengers on board," United spokeswoman Jean Medina said Thursday.
She said United is "continuing to look at ways we can be more consistent" with flights during severe weather events. The airline has apologized individually to the passengers involved and is sending them travel vouchers that can be used on future United flights.
George Simmons of San Francisco, who was in first class on Flight 907, said the crew showed a movie and served drinks and snacks during the wait.
"The pilot kept saying, 'We're going to go get de-iced, were going to take off,'" Simmons said. "People were remarkably calm. I was pretty calm until about seven hours into it."
The incident was first reported by the Chicago Tribune.
United did cancel about 1,500 flights scheduled from Chicago and Washington Dulles last weekend because of the snow and ice, Medina said. Based on the forecast, United canceled all its O'Hare departures after 7 p.m. Saturday, but believed this flight, scheduled to depart around 5 p.m., could take off before the storm arrived. "The ice storm started earlier than expected," Medina said.
On Tuesday, Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters ordered DOT's inspector general to investigate why passengers were held for so long on the JetBlue flights and on an American Airlines flight on Dec. 29.
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