JetBlue Airways Corp. tried to calm a maelstrom of criticism Thursday, after passengers were left waiting on planes at a New York airport for as long as nine hours during a snow and ice storm.
The airline said 10 incoming and outbound flights at John F. Kennedy International Airport were "significantly delayed" with customers on board during Wednesday's storm. Reasons included congestion, frozen equipment and an effort to keep planes ready to go in case the weather broke, said JetBlue spokesman Bryan Baldwin.
More than 250 of JetBlue's roughly 500 flights nationwide were canceled Wednesday, but "fairly normal" service resumed Thursday, he said.
Calling Wednesday's delays "unacceptable," the airline planned to offer the affected passengers refunds and free flights.
To Cheryl Chesner, 26, "unacceptable" was hardly the word for the 11 hours she said she and her husband, Seth, 27, spent trying to take a JetBlue flight to Aruba for their honeymoon.
"It was the worst. It was horrific," she said. Baldwin said the Aruba flight, scheduled to leave at about 8 a.m. Wednesday, ultimately left late Wednesday night. But the Chesners went home to the Bronx.
While they waited to take off, John Farrell waited to arrive. His JetBlue flight from Fort Myers, Fla., landed at 10 a.m., but passengers didn't get off until nearly 7 p.m., he said.
"You gotta realize the frustration - you can look out the window and you can see, there's the gate, and if you let us off the plane, we can walk there," said Farrell, 48, of Brooklyn.
Onboard the planes, snack foods wore out their welcome, bathrooms became unpleasant and cabins sweltered, passengers said.
"They had to open the door every 20 minutes just so we could get air," said Sean Corrinet, 29, who was on a flight bound for Cancun, Mexico. It was delayed for at least eight hours, Baldwin said.
Baldwin said the jam arose as the airline sent outbound flights to the runway - so they could leave immediately if the weather let up - while incoming flights filled up the gates. The problem grew as some equipment used to tow planes away from gates froze to the ground, he said.
"We ended up with a gridlock situation where we couldn't move any of the aircraft at the gates," he said.
The airline stopped incoming flights by midafternoon, Baldwin said. By about 3 p.m., the airline gave up hope that the weather would allow the planes on the runway to take off and started arranging for buses to bring passengers back, he said. But the icy weather made that a slow process, he said.
"We need to make sure that it's always safe for the customers," he said.
JetBlue will review the day's events to determine whether it could have handled the storm differently and how to prevent similar problems from arising again, Baldwin said.
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