The exact number of planes stuck on the tarmac was unclear, but irate passengers reported that the problems affected several airlines. Pilots and officials blamed some of the problems on a shortage of deicing fluid and a new federal regulation giving pilots a narrow window to get their planes in the air once the chemicals are applied. The change has meant some jets need to get doused repeatedly if their takeoffs are delayed.
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 9Â½ hours," said Chandran, 30, of New York City. "They kept saying â€˜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."
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.
Port Authority aviation director Bill DeCota said airport operators and the carriers need to collectively work out a solution quickly to what is evolving as a major problem with deicing. Just last month, JetBlue stranded passengers on several planes for up to 10 1/2 hours during a similar storm. At the time, the airline said its inability to get planes deiced in accordance with the new FAA rules was a factor. "We and the carriers need to sit down and find out whether there is anything we can do," DeCota said. "I know there are a lot of irate passengers, and they have a right to be." Other airlines that reported problems included South Korean carrier Asiana Airlines, the charter company Miami Air and Royal Air Maroc, the national airline of Morocco. Royal Air Maroc kept one plane full of passengers on the tarmac for nearly 14 hours, DeCota said. Two Virgin Atlantic flights - one diverted from Boston - also were kept at a standstill for hours, spokeswoman Brooke Lawer said. One flight sat from 9:45 p.m. until 4 a.m., when it was canceled. "I know that deicing was a significant factor," Lawer said. From Friday to Saturday morning, more than 3,600 commuter and mainline flights were canceled nationwide because of the effects of the storm. JetBlue, US Airways, Delta Air Lines and American Airlines all reported cancellations. For this storm, JetBlue took no chances of a repeat of last month's problems. It 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. JetBlue expected mostly normal operations Saturday, said spokeswoman Jenny Dervin. Friday's snow, ice and rain storm closed schools in parts of the Northeast and made highways treacherous. The weather was blamed for nearly a dozen traffic deaths in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Maryland. AP-CS-03-17-07 2232EDT