Delta Can't Land In Newark, Abandons Passengers

Reader Eric writes that his girlfriend got a call from his Aunt last night because her cousin was was stuck on the tarmac at Syracuse, NY. They found this odd because she was flying to Newark. Why would she be on the ground several hours away? Because that’s where Delta dropped her off. According to Eric, Delta abandoned a plane load of passengers in Syracuse after being unable to land in Newark due to high traffic and poor weather.

Eric writes:

Delta told them initially that they had run low on fuel (odd considering they were flying from Salt Lake City to Newark, so they went 200 miles farther to get fuel). Then, at 5pm, they told passengers that there were having mechanical problems, which they repeated every hour until 10pm, when they were told that weather and heavy air traffic disallowed them to land in Newark.

They never did get off the ground again. Now the passengers have the option of taking a bus ride to Newark or spending the weekend in Syracuse while they wait for Delta to come pick them up. Sounds like a lot of fun. Anyone want to stop by the Syracuse airport and see if they’re still sitting there?

USA Today reports that Delta canceled 200 flights all over the northeast last night due to rainy weather and an FAA decision to slow air traffic. Joe Kolshak, Delta’s executive vice president for operations, gave an interview to USA Today, but didn’t mention a planeload of people abandoned in NY:
“While it does inconvenience some people, the goal is to minimize the impact to as few people as possible,” he said.
USA Today claimed that Delta canceled the flights early to “in hopes of giving at least 12-hours notice to affected passengers via automated e-mail and cellphone messages or calls from reservations staff. Passengers could ask for refunds or switch to other flights for no additional fees.”

Google maps says the ride from Syracuse Airport to Newark International Airport is 251 miles. After six hours sitting on the tarmac, would you take the bus or wait?

Eric writes:

Hey Guys,

Last night at about 6pm my girlfriend got a call from her aunt. Apparently my girlfriend’s cousin was stranded on a tarmac in Syracuse, NY. She had been waiting there since 4pm, which is when she was supposed to land in Newark, NJ.

Delta told them initially that they had run low on fuel (odd considering they were flying from Salt Lake City to Newark, so they went 200 miles farther to get fuel). Then, at 5pm, they told passengers that there were having mechanical problems, which they repeated every hour until 10pm, when they were told that weather and heavy air traffic disallowed them to land in Newark.

At 10pm, they let everybody off the plane. Unfortunately, the Syracuse Airport closes all of its shops and restaurants at about 7 or 8. Passengers were told they had two options: Take a bus leaving Syracuse at 1am to Newark (a 5 hour trip), or stay until Sunday (2 days!) and hop another plane.

Luckily, we live in Ithaca, NY, so my girlfriend and I went and picked her up. In a strike of very lucky coincidence, we were going to leave today to go to New Jersey to see them, anyway. For the rest of the people on that flight, they’re either spending 5 hours on a crappy bus to get to Newark at 6am today, or waiting in Syracuse until Sunday. Not exactly an ideal weekend for somebody not from the area.



UPDATE: Bus carrying passengers from this flight has crashed, killing the driver and sending 12 passengers to the hospital.

With storms firing, Delta cancels 200 flights to curb delays [USA Today]
(Photo: drewski2112)


Edit Your Comment

  1. ptkdude says:

    It doesn’t sound like Delta stranded these passengers in Syracuse. No, the plane didn’t land where it was scheduled to. And yes, Delta probably lied to the passengers about why. However, they were offered the choice of taking a bus to Newark, or waiting for another available flight. When they bought their tickets, they were buying transportation from Salt Lake City to Newark. Delta was providing just that. I’m sure Delta *wanted* the plane to land in Newark, but it was beyond their control as to why. Delta attempted to deliver them to their scheduled destination via airplane, but got them as close as they could before needing to transfer them to another mode of transport.

    The weather can really screw up the best laid plans, and there isn’t much you can do about it. As for Delta lying to their passengers (which seems to be standard practice lately): totally unacceptable.

  2. Tallanvor says:

    “Delta told them initially that they had run low on fuel (odd considering they were flying from Salt Lake City to Newark, so they went 200 miles farther to get fuel)”

    This isn’t that odd… If traffic was really backed up at Newark, then they had to go somewhere to get fuel. All of the other planes stuck in holding patterns were burning fuel as well, so the ones last in line would be the ones who would divert.

    The 6 hours stuck on the plane when it was sitting on the ground is what everyone should be really upset about.

  3. pinkbunnyslippers says:

    So which was it? Was it the weather? Was it mechanical problems? Or was it low fuel? Because from that story, I heard 3 reasons why Delta didn’t ever make it to Newark. Make up your mind, Delta!

    I feel for these people, but PTKDUDE is right. These people didn’t get to their destination, and Delta provided an alternative. Yeah, it totally sucks, but these people aren’t “stranded”. If I were in their position, I’m sure I’d be fit to be tied, but let’s recognize that if this was really caused by weather (which it probably was), what are you going to do? Get pissed that Delta doesn’t train its staff to fly in electrical storms? Please.

    And I’m from Syracuse, and I know that the airport is where boredom goes to die, so I REALLY feel bad for these people. Serves them right for wanting to go to Newark in the first place. ;)

  4. ediebeale says:

    Will someone please explain to me (because I honestly don’t get it, and I’m not being sarcastic here): Why would rain delay a plane? Is it landing conditions? Because I’ve been on planes when it’s been a torrential downpour, and usually, the plane flys above the rain, so it’s only in rainy conditions for a few minutes. Sometimes I think airlines are blowing smoke when it comes to these “weather crisis” things, and it’s just another on a long list of excuses. I mean, haven’t they figured out by now how to cope with these conditions after all these years? But it could just be me.

  5. Pelagius says:

    Has anyone figured out what’s happening to Northwest Airlines? It sounds like Dick Cheney has been disappearing their pilots.

  6. pinkbunnyslippers says:

    @ediebeale: I think this was more of a case of lightening and and whatnot. You’re right, rain shouldn’t delay a plain. But when you’re flying up into the clouds that are producing lightning and electricity, you’re pretty much stuck on the ground until it passes. :)

  7. ediebeale says:

    @pinkbunnyslippers: Yeah, I guess I wouldn’t want to be riding in a giant lightning rod…

  8. Falconfire says:

    we had some nasty lightning last evening yes, but the whole tri-state area did including the alternate landing spot.

  9. j-o-h-n says:

    What turned outto be one of my favorite moments in aviations was when a certain airline which was flying us from St. Louis to Des Moines, flew over Des Moines decided for some reason that they couldn’t land there (my guess they sent the ground crew home instead of paying them overtime) and landed in Kansas City.

    We deplaned and there was not a soul from the airline at the gate and everyone is milling around tired, unhappy and wondering what to do. Some people talk about trying to find rooms or renting cars. I decide to go down to the ticket counter to see if there is anyone there and the woman who was in the seat next to me decides to come with.

    When we get to the ticket desk there is someone there who just keeps telling me is sorry, but she doesn’t know what she can do. Then my seatmate — a kind of shy bookish type who I don’t think has said ten words all night — puts her ID up on the counter and says “I really need to be to work early in the morning”.

    It’s an FAA ID card.

    Agent lady has a look of horror and picks up the phone.

    Thirty minutes later we are all in a very comfy charter bus with a pile of freshly delivered pizzas headded up I35.

    I sat next to her on the bus and found out that she was most amused at their response as she wasn’t anybody important at all, just a junior meteorologist at piddly regional airport.

    The rest of us were just glad to be home.

  10. faust1200 says:

    @ediebeale: To preface I’m a former airline pilot and flight instructor. I’m not speaking about these specific events but planes cannot/should not fly through thunderstorms because of the lightning obviously and unstable air. In such air you could experience extreme turbulence and in a landing or takeoff phase could be a disaster particularly because you would be at low airspeeds (close to stall speed)and near the ground. (ouch) Yes you can fly over weather but when you take off and land you must still fly through the weather at these points. Rain by itself is doable. The high shifting winds and unstable air and lightning make it not doable. So if you ever look at doppler radar the green stuff is usually ok (light-medium rain) The yellow orangy-red stuff is not so much. So no big revelations here but just some basics.

  11. pinkbunnyslippers says:

    @j-o-h-n: That is AWESOME. It gives a whole new meaning to “DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM?” (which my father likes to try and pull whenever he can, never to much avail!)

    What a great story!

  12. Falconfire says:

    @faust1200: the problem is, the weather was well known to be likely bad hours before the plane even took off. There is no excuse for not having enough gas onboard in this situation, other than the airline did it as a costsaving measure, which they have been doing for a long time now and have been told by the government to stop numerous times.

  13. Cuschoolie1 says:

    I used to live in Syracuse and have flown out of there a ton of times. Not the best airport to get stuck at! I feel for those passengers. If i was them, I would suck it up and wait for another plane. I’ve seen the folks that ride the bus out of Syracuse and I’d feel safer in the plane thats low on fuel and has mechanical problems lol

  14. Anitra says:

    Plane diverted, lands elsewhere and gives passengers a choice – take a bus, or wait 2 days? That kinda sucks, but it’s OK.

    Delta lies to passengers and keeps them on the tarmac for 6 hours until everything is closed? Not acceptable.

    You should be able to figure out after an hour, two hours at most, that you won’t be going to Newark after all. Let the passengers out THEN, when there is still a chance of a decent meal and cabs at the airport. (Airports in upstate NY close down EVERYTHING except the gates after about 9pm.)

  15. mac-phisto says:

    it seems like the larger issue at hand here is overbooked airports. this story & the video of the man waiting for 7 hours to leave jfk, among some other experiences that i’ve heard of lately seem to indicate that a minor variance in flight plan can leave you waiting in queue for a runway at a major airport indefinitely.

    a relative of mine used to fly for continental w/ newark as his hub. he once told me that a plane takes off & lands every 60 (or 90…i forget which) seconds there. that’s pretty incredible if you think about it.

    it seems that a more flexible traffic control system is in order, or airport expansions, or less traffic. whatever the solution, it’s not gonna be a cheap one.

  16. yg17 says:

    @j-o-h-n: That has got to be the best story I’ve ever heard.

    What airline was this anyways?

  17. IRSistherootofallevil says:

    You know, New York City has 3 different airports, not to mention Westchester County, Islip and Teterboro. Delta had no excuse to go to Syracuse. Seriously, they couldn’t go to Hartford, or Logan for that matter?

    It’s not like they don’t have ANY operations at Laguardia or anything.

  18. pestie says:

    @faust1200: I was going to say something similar, but I think you covered it quite nicely. I was a passenger in a Cessna 172 when a thunderstorm cell formed nearby and the wind got bad fast. I got to watch as my flight instructor missed a landing in a nasty crosswind (we were nearly blown off the runway) and had to go around again. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him so nervous, and he didn’t rattle easily. He got us on the ground, though, and didn’t damage the plane in the process.

  19. JustAGuy2 says:


    That assumes they could get a landing slot at Laguardia, or Logan. Syracuse is not crowded, so they could definitely get in there, and it was (presumably) beyond the weather pattern.

    It’s really pretty simple, if air traffic control says you can’t land, you can’t land.

  20. bnet41 says:

    I think the only good solution is expansion at the big airports, and also expansion of the air traffic control systems as well.

    The problem is communities fight with everything they have against any expansion. I have heard getting new run-ways can take up to 20 years.

    You can build new airports, but no one is going to use one in the middle of nowhere, where they can actually build one quickly.

  21. humphrmi says:

    @j-o-h-n: This is both a great story and a depressing one at the same time. It only proves that, as we suspected, people who say “Sorry, I can’t do anything for you” are really just too lazy to just pick up the phone and ask someone who can do something to help.

  22. jycws117 says:

    The storie gets worse… It looks like some of the passengers never made it back to Newark due to their bus crashing in PA on the way (link to news story below).


  23. protest says:

    i was trying to get back to philadelphia from kentucky yesterday, and my coworker and i were bumped from our northwest flight because some other flight got cancelled, and those people got our seats. the ticket lady said “no one was willing to give up their spot.” um, so why weren’t we asked if we wanted to give up our seats, since, you know we were sold tickets for THAT FLIGHT?? northwest gave us $300 vouchers for a future flight, so, ok fine whatever.

    get on the later flight to detroit and wait for our connection, and wait, and wait. the flight is late, but no delay is posted, they just keep switching the gate number – 3 TIMES. for those who don’t know, the detroit airport is bleeping huge (albeit awesome!), we had to take the tram thingy to get to the new gate each time.

    so we get on the plane 45 minutes late, and then we get out on the tarmac and the pilot shuts off the engines saying “well folks we were cleared for landing with no wait 5 mintues ago and now they’re telling me it will be 45 minutes.” you could tell he was irritated, it was rather hilarious. he told us that there was a big ass storm system moving through the east coast, and air traffic control was running out of air space to divert flight paths aroung it. so we had to wait another hour to take off. this does not bother me, i mean yes it sucks, but i’d rather get there alive. next thing you know, the one flight attendent is sent scurrying by the first class douches, serving them drinks like crazy, i swear to god this must have been the most demanding, whiny group of douches that have needed to be coddled by a flight attendent 15 MINUTES after leaving the gate!! needless to say no one in coach was served anything, or even acknowledged.

    so we finally get in the air, get to philly, but circle the airport for about 30 minutes waiting to land, there was no announcement about this, maybe they figured no one would notice.

    we finally got off the plane in philly 5 hours after the original flight was supposed to land. northwest was pretty cool about the whole thing, except the whole bumping original passengers from flights instead of just making people wait for vacant seats. whatever, i’ve got a free flight from an airline who bumps original passengers, woot! we got lucky compared to those poor people stuck on a damn plane for 6 hours!

  24. NovacaineLiFE says:

    But why syracuse? Albany is 2-3 hours from Newark on nearly a straight shot down 87, which is much much closer than syracuse and about the same size airport. Any of the NYC airports or philly would have worked too. Instead they landed at a rinky dink airport (yes, I’ve been to syracuse airport countless times, used to live around there) 5-6 hours from where they were supposed to be.

  25. donvag says:

    WOW! As an airline pilot I am surprised about how people are oblivious to what goes on with air travel. First of all most weather is a FORECAST, meaning that it is predicted. It can get better or worst! I think its incredible when people think its my fault I cant get them to their destination because of a thunderstorm. My favorite is the dentist who is trying to get to a conference, I dont tell you how to do a root canal so dont argue with me to why I decided to divert to lets say Providence instead of Boston.
    Example of a stupid comment
    “so we finally get in the air, get to philly, but circle the airport for about 30 minutes waiting to land, there was no announcement about this, maybe they figured no one would notice”
    If I have to divert my first concern is safety, then making sure we are following FAA regulation, and lastly passenger comfort. If I dont make a PA announcement Im sorry but I was too busy figuring out if we are too heavy to land, if the runways to my divertion airport are long enough and get personnel ready on the ground and if the weather there is good and get the plane ready for landing. IF I have enough time Ill make a PA announcement. If I dont ill tell the flight Attendents to do it. Im sorry if making sure we land safe is not important to many of you.

  26. IRSistherootofallevil says:

    Yes, even Islip would have worked too, and it’s about an hour into Long Island. Southwest uses Islip for its flights, and they use 737’s so the airport should have been big enough.

  27. j-o-h-n says:

    @yg17: It’s been almost 10 years so I’m not 100% sure which airline it was — which ever one hubbed through St. Louis.

  28. j-o-h-n says:

    @bnet41: “You can build new airports, but no one is going to use one in the middle of nowhere, where they can actually build one quickly.”

    It seems to have worked for DIA.

  29. protest says:


    dude, i wasn’t insulting the pilot, in fact i told the stewardess to tell him thanks when we got off the plane. like i said in my post, i’d rather get somewhere alive than fast. i was also thankful that he didn’t bullshit the passengers and told us straight up what was going on.

  30. JustAGuy2 says:


    1. Airline was likely TWA.

    2. In terms of building an airport, Colorado ain’t New York – lots more open space out there.

  31. ord2fra says:

    Here’s the flight in question:


    He held near CLE, then diverted into SYR. You can then see that the return flight SYR-EWR was canceled DAL1688 on 28 June.


    I see this every day at work, and if you want it fixed the person to write is your congressman/woman. The ATC system is decades old, and doesn’t use satellite or anything more than WWII radar technology. In-aircraft navigation systems have progressed to the point that airlines can pinpoint where their planes are within 30 feet anywhere on earth, but the traffic system hasn’t implemented changes to take advantage of it.

    Imagine the iPhone being released but the network was only a CB radio. You could digitally tune in any channel, and triangulate your position based on the CB transmitters, but it was still a CB radio. That’s where we are.

  32. FLConsumer says:

    @ord2fra: Releasing the iPhone onto the AT&T network is just like what you described.

    I agree, at this point the problem is the traffic control system rather than the airlines themselves. The only thing the airlines could (and should!) do is be more honest with the passengers. Also, it’d be nice if they could be a bit more humane in letting passengers off the planes when it’s obvious the plane isn’t going to be going anywhere for awhile…or make the seats/cabin large enough that people are comfortable enough to wait it out in the plane.
    At this day & age, the hub & spoke system doesn’t seem to make much sense anymore.

  33. Rocketski22 says:

    I was one of the passengers on Delta 1688 yesterday. The plane’s hydraulic system was the cause of us having to be bussed to Newark Airport. We were originally diverted to Syracuse because of “weather” in Newark and allegedly the plane did not have enough fuel to “circle” the airport. This plane was delayed in Sacramento because of the hydraulic leak and was late arriving in Salt Lake City. The problem apparently was never fixed. I specifically asked for a hotel voucher and was told they could not authorize it, only a supervisor could. I asked them to call a supervisor and they said they could not. Rooms were available at the Holiday Inn Express and Candlewood Suites at the airport. Delta did “abandon” us. The busses had to come from Rochester, an hour and forty minutes away. The drivers could have been up all day and then started taking us to Newark, at least a 4 hour fifteen minute ride from Syracuse Airport. Delta was not organized and they did “abandon” us. They just wanted us away from Syracuse Airport. They could have put us up at a hotel, and had the busses come in later in the day. They said we could pay for the room ourself but we would then have to find our own way back to Newark because the busses they were paying for would be at the airport in a few hours and if we didn’t take them we were on ouw own. It would have been a lot safer and it may have saved a life and prevented some passengers from being injured if they put us all up in a hotel, or at least offered that option to us.


  34. TVarmy says:

    Correct me if I am wrong, but I remember reading somewhere that commercial airplanes actually have to have, by either policy or law (I dunno which) at least 1.5 times as much fuel as they need for the trip.

  35. CapitalC says:

    The problem isn’t the airline, it’s the NYC airspace. There’s 3 major airports and numerous other minor ones.

    As soon as someone at the FAA pulls their head out of their ass and sorts out the air-traffic problem around New York, the airlines and thus the passengers will have fewer delays and waits.

  36. ord2fra says:

    @TVarmy: Actually, it’s only three things: Fly to the destination, then to the alternate (when required), then an additional 45 minutes. On a day like this, Delta dispatchers probably added an additional 30-40 minutes of hold fuel (and they did hold). So to maintain a safe operation, the diversion to Syracuse was probably a good move.

    Here’s the actual law for this operation:

    § 121.639 Fuel supply: All domestic operations.

    No person may dispatch or take off an airplane unless it has enough fuel-

    (a) To fly to the airport to which it is dispatched;

    (b) Thereafter, to fly to and land at the most distant alternate airport (where required) for the airport to which dispatched; and

    (c) Thereafter, to fly for 45 minutes at normal cruising fuel consumption or, for certificate holders who are authorized to conduct day VFR operations in their operations specifications and who are operating nontransport category airplanes type certificated after December 31, 1964, to fly for 30 minutes at normal cruising fuel consumption for day VFR operations.