Delta flight stranded 18 hours, passengers slept on airplane floor

Passengers on a Delta flight from New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport to Los Angeles faced extensive delays before the flight took off — 18 hours later than scheduled.

Delta Flight DL 975 was due to depart New York at 3:30 p.m. ET on Wednesday. It was initially delayed about an hour, pushing back from the gate at 4:27 p.m., according to data from FlightAware.

That initial delay led to a ripple effect of additional delays, however, and passengers said that poor communication and an absence of helpful assistance and amenities made the situation worse than it needed to be.

“It was so upsetting,” Eloise Moran, a passenger on the flight, told Business Insider in a phone interview.

Among the passengers were multiple celebrities, reportedly including Beyonce’s mom, Tina Knowles-Lawson; Dacre Montgomery from the Netflix show “Stranger Things”; and several cast members from the ABC program “Dancing with the Stars.”

Emma Slater, who performs on “Dancing with the Stars,” tweeted a video showing livid passengers eight hours into the saga, as a Delta gate agent told them they wouldn’t get hotel rooms for the overnight delay.

“Disgraceful,” she said. “@Delta telling the hundreds of passengers of flight 975 (after waiting on the tarmac for a total of 8 hours and having to get off the aircraft twice for a multitude of reasons including mechanical) that they won’t provide hotels for us.”

Passengers said they taxied for hours, ended up leaving the plane and reboarding twice, and finally learned that the flight wouldn’t leave until Thursday morning.

Numerous Twitter users said they were on the plane for four hours at one point and spent a total of eight hours on the tarmac before the flight was delayed overnight.

“I live on this plane now,” tweeted Matthew K. Begbie, who said he was on the flight. “I have forgotten what the world outside this plane is like. Babies have been born. People have died. The world turns on but flight 975 is forever.”

A Delta Air Lines check-in area in Miami.
Jeff Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Why passengers were told the delays kept piling up

According to Moran, a writer who lives in New York, passengers boarded on time, but the plane couldn’t push back right away because of a mechanical issue with the cargo door.

“The mechanics ended up fixing it, the pilot said, but then there was bad weather predicted,” she said.

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After it was fixed, she said, the plane taxied again before the pilot announced that they were being forced to change their planned routing because of weather issues. They also had to taxi to a different runway. Once they got there, flights were held because of a thunderstorm. Eventually, at about 8 p.m., the plane returned to the gate because one of the pilots reached his federally mandated maximum number of working hours before requiring a rest period, often known as “timing out.”

Passengers had been on the plane for 4 1/2 hours by that point, according to Moran. The Department of Transportation requires airlines to let passengers off the plane after three hours — Delta told Business Insider it returned to the gate in time to meet this requirement.

Moran said passengers were told the flight would leave at about 10:30 p.m. at this point. She said that Delta did not offer dinner vouchers but that most passengers she could see went to find dinner at a terminal restaurant anyway.

By 10:30 p.m., passengers reboarded the plane, taxied to the runway, waited in the queue for the runway — and then turned around again. The crew announced that one of the pilots had officially timed out.

The pilot told passengers that customer representatives would provide information and hotel vouchers back in the terminal, according to Moran, who says that never ended up happening. Passengers got off the plane, in what Moran described as “an angry mob,” at about 1 a.m. Customer representatives offered food vouchers — though restaurants were all closed — but no hotel vouchers.

Moran, who spent the night in the terminal, said she saw passengers, including children and elderly people, sleeping on the floor.

Finally, passengers got back on the plane at about 9:30 a.m. on Thursday, before taking off.

A Delta Air Lines ticket counter in Boston.
David L. Ryan/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Delta’s response to passengers

Moran said she had been offered a $100 travel voucher and 5,000 Delta SkyMiles, worth a baseline of about $50. She originally paid $600 for her basic-economy ticket to visit a friend for her birthday.

“As if I even want to travel with Delta again, after that,” she said. “It’s lost earnings, too, I could have worked yesterday if I knew the flight would be so delayed.”

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Though Delta has the lowest rate of cancellations of any of the major US airlines, it has been criticized for delaying flights for unreasonable lengths of time to avoid canceling them.

On Tuesday, the airline issued weather waivers that covered the New York region because of forecast storms. Operations at JFK have been affected repeatedly this summer by severe weather, as well as by repairs on one of its runways, which has been closed since April. Construction is expected to be completed by November.

In a statement, Delta apologized to customers:

“Delta apologizes to customers on flight 975 operating from New York-JFK to Los Angeles, which was delayed last night due to weather affecting the Northeast airspace. Customers were offered water and snacks, pillows and blankets in the terminal before the flight departed at approximately 10am for Los Angeles Thursday morning.”

The airline also told Business Insider it planned to offer passengers a gesture of goodwill to further apologize. It was not immediately clear whether that referred to the $100 voucher and 5,000 miles Moran was offered.

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