JetBlue, US gov't look at storm flight delays
(Reuters) - JetBlue Airways (JBLU.O), stung by a another long ground delay due to snowy weekend weather, said on Monday it would review decision making for handling diverted flights while U.S. aviation regulators launched a review of all air traffic operations in the storm-struck Northeast.
"Everything's on the table," JetBlue spokeswoman Jenny Dervin said. "We'll evaluate the entire process and decision making tree so to not put our customers in this position again."
JetBlue diverted six planes to Hartford's Bradley airport on Saturday as the freak October storm that dumped up to 30 inches of snow in some parts of New England and knocked out power to more than 2 million homes targeted the region.
Five JetBlue flights experienced delays of three hours or more on the tarmac in Hartford, Dervin said. One of them, Flight 504 from Ft. Lauderdale to Newark, was among the first to land to refuel and wait for clearance to head for New Jersey.
Reports said it was stranded on the tarmac for more than seven hours before passengers could exit the aircraft. Dervin said refueling glitches prompted by storm-related airport power outages were among the problems.
Bradley Airport spokesman John Wallace could not confirm any details about specific airlines or airport operations on Saturday beyond saying in a statement the facility handled 23 diversions and tried to accommodate between 1,000 and 1,500 stranded passengers with cots, blankets, food and water.
"Our resources were stretched to the limit," Wallace said.
Neither JetBlue nor Transportation Department officials looking into the matter would confirm the seven-hour timeframe reported by passengers.
A delay longer than three hours can result in a government fine, a rule prompted in part by a notorious incident involving a JetBlue flight stranded at New York's JFK airport during an ice storm on Valentine's Day, 2007.
Flight 504, directed to a remote area of the airport on Saturday, could not access the terminal due to diverted planes that subsequently arrived and crowded the gate areas, Dervin said.
"It got boxed in," Dervin said.
She said JetBlue flights were diverted because of navigation problems with airport navigation equipment in New York and New Jersey.
The Federal Aviation Administration, responsible for air traffic control, said in a statement it was looking into Northeast airline operations, diversions, procedures and airport equipment performance during the storm.
JetBlue said it could not say whether the decision to send certain flights to Hartford with the brunt of the storm heading for the region was incorrect.
Congestion, not weather, Dervin said, was the reason for problems at the airport where JetBlue planes are sometimes sent to refuel or wait, if there are delays in New York.
Other JetBlue flights were diverted to Atlantic City and Richmond, areas hit by the storm but not debilitated by it, Dervin said.
(Reporting by John Crawley; editing by Carol Bishopric)
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