Virgin Atlantic Keeps Passengers On Hot Plane For 4 Hours

Passengers were kept aboard a hot plane without food, water or air conditioning Tuesday night after their flight from London to Newark was diverted to an airport in Connecticut. The airplane landed near Hartford at 8:20pm, but the passengers were not bused to Newark until 1am. According to the AP, at least three passengers fainted and were treated by paramedics.

CNN has a passenger’s description of the scene:

“It was like four hours on the ground without any air conditioning. It was crazy. Just crazy,” said Willan. “There were babies on the plane. And we are in dark and hot. You try to be patient but people were yelling and screaming.”

There were 300 passengers on the flight. The airline says the delay was caused by the CT airport’s lack of immigration officers.

The airline also told CNN that they are not subject to the new tarmac rule, so they don’t have to worry about being fined $27,500 per passenger.

“That is a U.S. regulation,” an airline spokesman said. “We are a European carrier so we operate under European law. We haven’t infringed any rules.”

Passengers say they were held on hot plane for 4 hours [CNN]
Virgin Atlantic passengers held on tarmac for four hours [USAToday]

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  1. tedyc03 says:

    Actually as much as it sucks it sounds like this was an immigration problem. Though why they didn’t choose an international airport, I don’t know.

    • longdvsn says:

      Bradley International Airport

      They should have had immigration personnel at the airport.

      • halfcuban says:

        Not necessarily. There are a bunch of airports that put international in the title and, surprisingly enough, don’t have any Customs or Immigrations Officials anywhere near the airport. In many cases these are airports that have “pre-clearance” flights from other countries where the CBP ARE located.

      • AnonymousCoward says:

        There are a lot of “international” airports that don’t have any scheduled international flights. Or they might have one a week. A small airport certainly wouldn’t have immigration and customs agents just sitting around waiting on the off chance a flight might be redirected there.

      • Arthur Pennant says:

        Bradley’s my regular airport. As far as I’m aware, they have exactly one international flight–to Amsterdam. They had posters all over saying something like “We’re an international airport, now we’re an intercontinental one.” Maybe they have flights to Mexico or something, but whenever I’ve looked for international flights, they reroute to Boston or New York first. It’s just easier to go to those cities themselves.

  2. aja175 says:

    Hmm. If they get away with saying “But we’re European, no fines for us!” I bet we’ll see a lot of new European airlines with familiar names…

    • QuantumRiff says:

      Its actually only domestic flights that have this fine, for pretty much this very reason. If delta had this same thing happen, the result would be the same.

      • Bob says:

        I think that is what he is talking about. It this flies for Virgin Airlines I bet Delta, Continential, American, United, and US Air will declare themselves international carriers instead of domestic carriers.

        And Virgin Airlines DID break a rule, the rule of common sense humanity.

        I think the Congress should pass a law that the FAA can fine airlines for such a fiasco. There were at least a dozen better solutions to this problems, all of which would cost Virgin Airlines actual money. For instance, they could have asked for refueling and a change in flight plan to fly them to an airport that could handle international passengers and bus the passenger that actually cleared customs to the correct airport. That would’ve been a pain in the butt for the passengers but nothing like being stuck in a potential health threatening environment.

        If it takes more than an hour to request these services something is horribly wrong in the bureaucracy.

        For the violation of common human decency I sentence some members of management at Virgin Airlines’ to a single-wide trailer for 4 hours on a parking lot with only the food, water, and cooling that plane had.

        It is very strange that it you do that to people in a parking lot that is considered false imprisonment but if an airline does it it is not considered false imprisonment.

        • halfcuban says:

          Yes, and if they do that, they will no longer be able to fly between American cities. Yes I’m sure Delta will give up having the biggest hub in the world, in order to get around these new tarmac rules. Airlines may be evil, but they’re not stupid.

          The reality is that the laws and rules around aviation are complex, and often mirror laws around ships. Which means the flag of the carrier is often more important than where it is landing. And it is doubtful this will change soon as to do so would be to open up a can of worms no one wants to, and would ruin the almost 50 years of harmonization and integration between airlines, aviation authorities, and most of the world. No one is going to pull the trigger on that because of flight delays.

          • trentblase says:

            They just need to get Georgia to secede from the union… it wouldn’t be the first time they tried. BOOM international flight hub.

    • c_c says:

      Well gee, Eurpoean companies don’t have to follow US rules when on American soil. Someone should tell BP…

    • dg says:

      I’d tell them “Yah, ok fine. Don’t pay the fine. But you no longer have landing rights here in the US.”

      Game over.

  3. COBBCITY says:

    True, Bradley Airport does not have immigration offices. Why on Earth this place was not landed at several other nearby airport that DO have such services (JFK, LaGuardia) escapes logic. You tell an international flight that does not seem to be having any mechanical issues to land at one of the few airports in the area with no assistance for that type of flight? It also made the bus ride PAINFUL at best. Bradley to Newark has to be at least a couple hours by bus.

    I love how they shrug off the US Regulation. I am sure the FAA will have a few things to say as will lawyers for the passengers.

    • nova3930 says:

      The FAA isn’t going to have anything to say about it because they have no jurisdiction. IIRC, by treaty, international carries based out of Europe who only fly into and out of international airports in the US, are governed by European law and European Aviation Safety Agency (their FAA) regulations. The FAA is effectively impotent….

    • halfcuban says:

      Why? Because LaGuardia is not a designated airport for such long-haul flights, and JFK is packed to the GILLS with other flights, and for a non-emergency like this one, theres no reason to cause a cascade of flight delays.

      • bwcbwc says:

        Obviously neither is Bradley. That didn’t seem to stop them. The issue was more like LGA was also packed to the gills. They could’ve tried Boston or Philly and put them on Amtrak, though.

    • Randell says:

      The rule is for DOMESTIC flights. If Virgin flew from NYC to LA, they would be required to follow the rule. They do not, therefore, they are no in violation of the law. Also, if there is a mechanical issue, the plane should be shut off which means no AC.
      They could not legally let them off the plane based on immigration. Let’s say they did, and then they were charged with bringing terrorists into the US? You would be all over them for not following immigration law.

  4. SkokieGuy says:

    I am so disappointing, there were so many headline opportunities.

    “Virgin Customers Spend Hot & Sweaty Night in Connecticut”

  5. BettyCrocker says:

    “We’re causing our customer’s medical distress but it’s fine, it’s all fine. Fine fine fine…” rolling my eyes.

    • Difdi says:

      Yeah, they’re actually bragging that they treat their customers badly. As if not being fined for bad behavior means the behavior wasn’t bad…

  6. AllanG54 says:

    I don’t know what’s worse….waiting for four hours on a hot, stuffy airplane or being knowing that you’re going to be bused to Newark. Six of one, half a dozen of the other.

  7. Ninjastorm66 says:

    What happened Virgin Atlantic? You used to be cool.

  8. nova3930 says:

    So the plane was diverted by air traffic control (employees of the FAA) and legally can’t deplane because federal customs enforcment isn’t anywhere to be found and somehow this is the arlines fault? I just don’t see it….

    ATC should have been smart enough to route them to an adequate airport and if one wasn’t available, customs should have been on the way long before the plane touched down.

    • Fantoche_de_Chaussette says:

      Now there’s a consumer issue: US Customs is the worst, rudest, most power-trippy border agency in the developed world. Seriously. The worst.

      Crossing into freaking China was a faster, more polite, and more civilized experience than having to deal with US Customs on the way back.

      Customs’ complete inability (or, more accurately, corporate unwillingness) to deal with this diverted airliner in a sane and timely manner is symptomatic.

      I only fault the Virgin Pilot for not demanding that airstairs be brought out, and, failing that declaring an emergency and evacuating all of his pax onto the tarmac. The aircrew should not have let the US DHS bureaucracy bully and intimidate them into keeping the passengers aboard a 100-degree aircraft.

      • Etoiles says:

        Yeah, the few times I’ve flown into a foreign country getting through immigration has been a breeze (in London and in Frankfurt) but coming back to the US was a tremendous pain in the butt. And took at least an hour.

      • Dallas_shopper says:

        I found the opposite…US immigration and customs was unfailingly polite and professional and immigration and customs in the UK, Mexico, and France were the worst by far. Of the three, the UK was head and shoulders above the rest in terms of sheer RUDENESS.

        I used to live in the UK and had a permanent resident visa there. It would always trigger a cascade of rudeness from immigration officials…ironically, often heavily-accented immigrants themselves. Hypocrites.

    • exconsumer says:

      I agree, I just don’t understand why they can’t have a few agents on duty to catch these stray flights. Send them to the area and have them set up a makeshift customs area assisted by local police. Can’t be that hard.

      All the policies US Customs has in the name of security regarding cases like this are laughable. Let’s say I get sick of waiting around and pop open the airplane hatch and the plane follows me . . . what would the airport, local law enforcement, and US Customs do then? Would they be capable of responding? If the answer is no, then their ‘security’ policies aren’t working and landing that plane in CN already compromised whatever secure border we had. . . OR the answer is yes, in which case they should have used those exact same resources to immediately process these people through customs in an orderly fashion.

    • Difdi says:

      Being diverted was not the airline’s fault. Not providing food, water or air conditioning, on the other hand, is entirely the airline’s fault.

    • coren says:

      And the airline shouldn’t have left them in a hot, dark, sweaty aircraft long enough for passengers to faint – just cuz they’re rereouted doesn’t mean they have to treat the people like shit.

  9. golddog says:

    Do Twitter Whores (per story yesterday) get free flights for Twitting about being held hostage?

  10. Sockatume says:

    Great approach, Virgin. Cry to the media world that European airlines are entitled to let their passangers bake to death. That’ll really help the airline business on this side of the Atlantic.

  11. oldwiz65 says:

    Just imagine the lawsuits if a passenger had died waiting.

  12. dolemite says:

    “Virgin Atlantic would like to thank passengers for their patience and apologize for any inconvenience caused,” a Virgin spokeswoman said earlier.

    One of the few things that makes me angry is when someone says this. By stating I am patient, you are indicating that I am compliant and accepting of your behavior. It sounded to me like no passengers were “patient”, but were rather “impatient”, and were forced into a situation.

    It’s similar to when a cop hands you a ticket and says “have a nice day” while smiling.

    • Schmeeky says:

      I especially hate it when companies apologize for “any inconvenience caused” rather than for the obvious inconvenience caused by the delay. It’s like they are implying the degree and reason of inconvenience varied from yes to none at all. It’s such a blanket platitude for what should be an very precise and heartfelt apology.

      • dolemite says:

        I agree, that second part bugs me too. An “inconvenience” to me is when I want A-1 for my steak, but they just ran out, so I’ll have to use the house brand. Being locked into a 100 degree box with screaming children and flustered passengers for 4+ hours, then missing my connecting flight and having to find a way home is quite out of the “inconvenience” category.

    • ellemdee says:

      I hate when companies marginalize customers’ bad experiences as “inconveniences”. Inconvenience is having to drive a mile out of your way because of construction or having to go to a different store because your regular grocery was out of the soup you like. Being stuck in a hot, dark tube with no food or water (and possibly full restrooms?) for hours is miserable and dangerous. It’s not like they were standing outside in a breeze – it’s summer and a plane with 300 people and no AC will get very hot very fast. People with medical conditions and infants would have had their safety put at risk. Doesn’t the airport have a secure room that security could have escorted the passengers to until they could get get enough immigration staff in so they could at least have had access to AC, restrooms, food & water?

      I think companies that use the word “inconvenience” in situations like this should have their CEO’s sit in a hot dark plane with 300 other people on a tarmac for 4 hours and see how “inconvenienced” they feel.

  13. hoi-polloi says:

    From the USA Today article:

    “The rules still need to be followed,” Cast said. “Everyone was safe. They may have been uncomfortable, but they were safe. It’s better to be on the ground wishing you were somewhere else than to be in the air wishing you were on the ground.”

    Unreal. It’s not like there are customs officers checking you out before you clear the ramp. Why can’t these people have been sequestered in the airport? Keeping them in a hot metal tube for hours may make for easier crowd control, but that’s no way to treat people.

    • jayde_drag0n says:

      uuhhhh I’m thinking people passing out and needing emergency services isn’t the definition of “uncomfortable”

    • Bob says:

      Wow! Just WOW! He is suggesting that it was safer to be on the tarmac in heat without water for 4 hours than in the terminal in the wrong airport?

      Karma would have him be stuck in traffic in Texas, in August, for 4 straight hours just as his air conditioner dies. At least he is “safe” on a major highway instead of a slum, right?

      • bonzombiekitty says:

        That’s not at all what he was saying. He was saying it’s better to be on the ground than in the air. That quote didn’t mention anything about a terminal.

        ‘m assuming they couldn’t let the passengers off the plane due to customs and immigration rules. With no customs, letting the passengers off the plane means whoever was let off can just walk away into the US.

        • hoi-polloi says:

          I’d argue that sitting for hours with 100 degree temps and uncirculated air has the potential to be unsafe. You have overheated passengers sweating without any means to rehydrate. People are passing out and being tended to by paramedics.

          There is a third option here that has been routinely ignored by airlines/airports. Let these people off the plane. They’ll be safer and more comfortable in the terminal, even if you have to sequester them in an airport lounge or some other space.

  14. Nighthawke says:

    The euros keep flaunting that line, it’ll only be a matter of time before it does become a regulation for any airline landing on US soil.

  15. Salty Johnson says:

    This isn’t Virgin’s fault, and they shouldn’t have to pay those fines. Not because they’re a European airline, that’s just poppycock. This is the FAA’s fault 100% for redirecting a plane to an airport without adequate services to handle the customers. And no, Virgin cannot allow their customers to deplane when customs is not available to let them into the country. They should have been allowed a gate so they could have shore power and keep the AC running. Another fault of ATC.

  16. Buckus says:

    “Diplomatic Immunity”
    “…Has just been revoked!”

  17. areaman says:

    The flight had been headed to Newark, New Jersey, from London, England, and was diverted late Tuesday because of bad weather conditions, the airline said.

    I have a feeling this will be another wasted disaster.

    The person who directed the flight to CT will probably say it’s not their job to care what happens AFTER the plane lands safely.

    Virgin is blaming Bradley airport for not being staffed properly.

    Bradley airport will blame other two parties for not getting enough of a notice to staff for this specific flight.

    • BobOki says:

      Then they should all get to share in the payment of the fines and restitution to the passengers, as they were all guilty of being morons.

  18. tasselhoff76 says:

    Flying just seems to suck more and more.

  19. Marlin says:

    Why did they not call the police? If I was being held in a conditon like that I call 911 and tell them I am being held against my will. That of course after I asked to be let off the plane and told no.

  20. aja175 says:

    To be fair there was some extreme weather in NYC last night, but there’s gotta be a better way.

    • areaman says:

      Yes, there are better wayS. And at the same time they don’t gives a shit. It’s no one’s responsibility. See post above on how nothing will change.

    • Bob says:

      Yes, divert the flight to another fully staffed international airport. If that determination cannot be made at that time divert to any airport and notify Virgin Airlines about the situation. Then it would be incumbent on Virgin to find out if that airport is staffed for this situation. If they find out it wasn’t than request a sequestered room in the terminal with cooling, water, and food until TSA and US Customs can get their butts in gear or request refueling and fly to another airport that can handle it, even it is in Detroit.

      These idiots don’t understand that the priority was to get the plane landed and OFF the tarmac, NOT to just land it anywhere.

      There were options to handle this better but no one gave a damn about the passengers once the plane landed.

  21. Guppy06 says:

    British business ignores American regulations. Sounds familiar…

  22. Not Given says:

    911?

  23. wadexyz says:

    What a retarded quote from the company spokesman. I hope he’s promptly sacked, as they say over the pond.

  24. ElizabethD says:

    What a stupid nightmare. Imagine if you were claustrophobic (as my husband and daughter are) on top of suffering from the heat. Oy.

    • PupJet says:

      I’m partly claustrophobic (I can tolerate SHORT amounts of time in an enclosed space or longer IF knowing that there is a destination involved); however I find this to be just downright wrong. I would start smoking on the plane. I’m sure that’d get me escorted off. LOL

  25. CalicoGal says:

    How about becoming ill and calling 911?
    If I fall out unconscious, I bet an ambo will come and take me off the plane.

    Oh look! The fresh air has revived me! I dont need to go to hospital at all!!

    BYE!!!!!!!

  26. dg says:

    The thing that doesn’t make sense is why the plane was hot and dark. Several solutions:

    * Out on the tarmac: Keep the engines running, producing power, keep the lights and air on.

    * Out on the tarmac: Open the damn door – get some air flow. Close the door when the plane is towed to the gate.

    * At the gate: Plug in, keep the lights and air on

    After about an hour of that bullshit, and when the first person fainted – I’d go open the door – blow the emergency slide, and exit the plane. Sure I’ll get arrested – but you know what? Chances are that the detainment area is going to be air conditioned.

  27. Aquaria says:

    What is the difference between leaving a child in a locked car in the summer heat and leaving 300 people in a locked plane in the summer heat? Is it just because it’s a bigger tube that people don’t get cooked? If my child’s health were in danger, the Air Marshal would literally have to shoot me to keep me from opening that hatch.

    It is going to take someone, maybe a lot of someones, dying before anything will change, if then.

  28. evilcharity says:

    This is just absurd. For the life of me, I do not understand WHY in this case people could not be allowed to at least get off the plane and wait inside the airport. I get there are laws about customs and yadda yadda, but what about showing a minimum of respect for humanity?!

  29. SteakNeggs says:

    Why couldn’t they be hooked up to the ground a/c unit and given supplies?

  30. b612markt says:

    “We are a European carrier so we operate under European law. We haven’t infringed any rules.”

    Ew! That’s a terrible (but profitable) attitude. No thanks!

  31. Joe Dirt says:

    Same thing happened to me last June in Atlanta on a Delta flight stranded on the tarmac for 4 hours except nobody reported on it. I bet this happens more than we think.

  32. BeFrugalNotCheap says:

    Why could’nt someone just walk up to the damn hatch, pop the lever, and push it open? I know rules are rules but god damn. Before any of you respond with a smart-ass comment I’m talking about common sense. I just don’t get why airline companies have to hold people hostage just because it’s an international flight. I guess they’re afraid some filthy european will try to run free.

  33. Galium says:

    This sounds like a great deal for the airlines. Like cruise ships, if they register everything in a foreign country then they do not have to obey any American laws.

  34. geosprite says:

    I was on this plane. Try sitting fully clothed in a dark, tightly packed sauna for over 4 hours without water if you would like to get an idea of the conditions! We didn’t smell good in there, either! It was pure luck that nobody died. Ironically, on 22 June 1984, Virgin’s inaugaural flight was number VS001 to Newark – same flight number, same destination, same day. 26 years on and the service has, er, gone downhill somewhat. The people at Bradley did all they could at short notice – it was them and not Virgin doing all the running to help us. They didn’t have the man-power to unload a jet of 300 people’s bags, but they came through. The customs people answered the call to come back to work at 3am. The police were sympathetic. Virgin broke promise after promise. They couldn’t cope. Poor business practice throughout. But this was not covered in British news at all. Virgin have said there will be no compensation. Not even an apology. I’ll never use the airline again on principle. I’ve no desire to line Richard Branson’s pockets any further, thank you.