Trapped on the Runway: Airplane Delays From Hell


Etihad passengers suffered through an unexpectedly long flight this weekend. (Photo: AP)

The only thing worse than a delayed flight is having to stay on the plane during that delay.

Passengers on Etihad Airways Flight 183 lived through their own version of travel hell over the weekend. Fog delayed their takeoff from Abu Dhabi, forcing their plane to sit on the tarmac for a miserable 12 hours. By the time the flight finally took off and touched down in its final destination of San Francisco, the passengers had spent 28 hours on the plane.

Related: Airline Passengers Trapped on Plane for 12-Hour Delay in Middle East

Since 2010, federal rules have required U.S. airlines flying domestically to let passengers off the plane if they’re delayed on the tarmac for more than three hours. A recent update requires international flights to give passengers the chance to get off the plane after a tarmac delay of more than four hours. But there are exceptions (safety reasons, security issues, or advice from air traffic control). And, as Etihad proves, delays still occur internationally — and in the U.S.

Here are some of the most agonizing stories of passengers stuck on the tarmac. These horror stories might convince you to bring extra snacks, books and a fully-charged iPad on your next flight.

34-Hour Ordeal


One long Cathay Pacific flight spent as much time on the ground as in the air. (Photo: AP)

Can you imagine taking a 34-hour flight? That was the ordeal faced by 256 people aboard a Cathay Pacific Flight from New York’s JFK Airport to Hong Kong last April. As the plane made its initial approach to Hong Kong, bad weather forced the plane to divert to Zhuhai, China, where passengers were stuck on the plane for another 15 hours before they finally took off for Hong Kong. For their troubles, each passenger received the equivalent of $300 and an apology letter.

A Very Un-Merry Christmas


Too many passengers spent too much of the 2010 holiday travel season on planes to nowhere. (Photo: AP)

The 2010 holiday travel season was hampered by a storm that forced passengers on a Cathay Pacific flight from Vancouver to spend 11 hours stuck on the tarmac after arriving at New York’s JFK. They landed after just after two in the morning and weren’t allowed off the plane until after one in the afternoon. Passengers on other flights that day were stuck on their planes at JFK for six hours or more.

Related: What to Do When Bad Weather Screws Up Your Flight

JetBlue’s Problems


JetBlue saw serious tarmac delays in 2007 and 2011. (Photo: AP)

In 2011, passengers on JetBlue Flight 504 from Ft. Lauderdale to Newark were stuck on the plane for seven hours when their plane was diverted to Connecticut. Passengers reported there was no food or water and that the bathrooms got clogged. But those fliers got off easy compared to some other New York-area JetBlue passengers in 2007; four fully loaded planes got stuck at JFK for more than nine hours (one flight was stuck for 11 hours).

As If the Flight to Australia Wasn’t Long Enough…


United Airlines had one of its planes spend a little too much time in the Land Down Under (Photo: AP)

Just last month, passengers on a United Airlines flight from San Francisco to Sydney, Australia received some unwelcome bonus time on their 15-hour flight. Their plane was diverted to Australia’s capital of Canberra — 180 miles southwest of Sydney —where the plane reportedly sat for three-and-a-half hours before passengers were finally allowed to stretch their legs in the airport. All told, the passengers were delayed for seven hours in Canberra before their plane could refuel and continue on to Sydney.

A Texas-Sized Delay


Qantas had an expensive delay. (Photo: AP)

Last year, mechanical issues delayed Qantas Flight QF008 to Brisbane for four hours in Dallas. It turned out to be a very expensive delay for Qantas. The U.S. Department of Transportation fined the airline $90,000 for failing to tell passengers they had the right to get off the aircraft during the two times the airplane returned to the gate.

Stuck in Chicago


United Airlines had a bad, and expensive, day in Chicago. (Photo: Getty Images)

Thunderstorms in Chicago created an especially bad delay day for United Airlines back in July of 2012. A whopping 13 United planes with 939 passengers on board were stuck on the ground at O’Hare International Airport for longer than the three hour limit. The feds say at least two of those planes didn’t have working restrooms. The government ended up fining United $1.1 million for the rule violation — at the time the largest penalty the government imposed for a three-hour limit violation.

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