Passengers who attempted to fly from Orlando to the Northeast
one recent spring afternoon will have no desire to see the Eugene
O'Neill play "Long Day's Journey Into Night."
They lived it out -- all on the ground.
On that day, air traffic control imposed a "hold" on all flights
up the eastern seaboard because of storms.
This was the experience of one of Insider's New York-bound
correspondents who decided it was best not to identify the
For one thing, bad weather and what turned out to be indefinite
delays were beyond the carrier's control.
Nevertheless, the ground services
extended by the airline to the affected passengers -- many set to
make international connections in New York -- left much to be
The saga begins: Passengers arriving to board their flight
around 12:15 p.m. were informed that because of backed up flights
enroute to the Northeast, the departure would be at 2 p.m.
At 2 p.m., with all seats filled, the MD-80 backed off from the
gate, taxied routinely to the runway and suddenly pulled over to
The pilot explained that air traffic control had placed a hold
on all flights up the eastern seaboard due to weather problems and
that the next update would occur at 2:30 p.m.
At 2:30 p.m., another indefinite delay was announced over the
intercom, as passengers viewed other aircraft jetting off for other
parts of the U.S.
The cabin temperature, at least, was marginally comfortable.
Cold soft drinks were served, and the thought occurred that,
surprisingly, babies and other kids aboard were well-behaved.
At 3 p.m., an indefinite delay with the promise of an update was
At 3:30 p.m., after learning of a further delay, the pilot
returned to the gate.
Passengers were told at the gate to stay in the area for hourly
updates, which in turn, resulted in more indefinite delays.
In the interim, one gate agent tried to handle the concerns of a
whole planeload of passengers, including those with international
connections. It was just too much for him.
The passengers were angry that more help was not provided to the
One man who runs a print shop in an Orlando suburb retorted, "If
I treated my customers this way, I'd be out of business."
The pilots of our correspondent's flight then stated that their
12-hour shift would be up if they did not depart by 8 p.m. And at 8
p.m., another indefinite delay occurred and there was no word from
the carrier's representative about the availability of a
Rumors circulated that no crew was available.
Ironically, flights from New York on all carriers continued to
arrive, although none could leave Orlando. This was baffling to the
stranded passengers, some of whom learned from relatives in New
York that the weather there was not all that bad.
Around 8 p.m., a second gate agent originally assigned to the
same carrier's scheduled evening flight to New York came over to
Passengers of our correspondent's flight were overheard
threatening chaos if the airline allowed its evening flight to
depart first with its regular passengers, who probably spent all
day at the theme parks having a jolly time!
What should be done? The crew of the evening flight should fly
the afternoon passengers home and let the night passengers fend for
themselves. That was the consensus.
But the airline announced it would definitely operate the
evening flight if it got clearance and would give priority for
unsold seats to the afternoon flight's international
By 9:30 p.m., however, there was no assurance that any flight
would get the OK to leave.
Literally "fed up" all day at Burger King and TCBY, the nearest
food outlets, our correspondent asked to be given a seat on the
first flight the next day and it was granted.
Like many of the affected passengers, he left his luggage on the
original plane because to claim it could take 90 minutes.
Luckily, he had some toilet articles in his hand luggage,
although no fresh clothes.
He then left to use an airport hotel phone, requested a stranded
single passenger rate from the Howard Johnson ($45 including tax)
and waited 25 minutes for the shuttle bus.
When confirming his new flight the next morning, our
correspondent learned that during the 25 minutes he was waiting for
the shuttle, the airline announced that departure clearance was
received for both flights, a crew was found for the earlier flight,
and both New York flights left within an hour of his 9:30 p.m.
decision to stay overnight!
Meanwhile, the airport hotels were booming. In fact, one airline
reportedly referred 160 passengers to our correspondent's hotel
earlier that day (at the passengers' expense).
Our correspondent's reaction to all this: (1) a realization that
Amtrak has its advantages; (2) surprise that Disney does not own
any airport hotels; (3) incredulous that his luggage is waiting at
the airport in New York, and (4) a resolution to pack extra
underwear in return trip hand luggage, not just in outbound.