NEW YORK – 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.
Calling the 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.
According to Baldwin, the jam arose as the airline sent outbound flights to the runway — so as to be ready to leave immediately if the weather let up — while incoming flights arrived and filled up the departure and arrival gates. The problem grew worse 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.