JetBlue suffered a major meltdown at New York JFK airport on Sunday evening as it struggled to recover from the nor’easter snowstorm that slammed the east coast over the weekend. Hundreds of passengers were left sitting on planes on the tarmac for hours as the airline ran out of space and workers to deal with the unfolding mess.
The airline had already proactively hundreds of flights over the weekend and JFK effectively shut up shop on Saturday but jetBlue apparently struggled to recover as the wintry weather coupled with Omicron-induced staff shortages took its toll on the airline’s operation.
Some passengers said they were stuck on arriving aircraft for hours upon hours because there simply weren’t enough ground staff available to connect jetbridges. At one point, aviation analyst Jason Rabinowitz counted nearly 20 inbound flights “scattered” around JFK’s taxiways unable to park at a gate because of the meltdown.
As the situation deteriorated on Sunday evening, jetBlue began to divert JFK-bound flights to other area airports to relieve the strain. One Airbus A320 was on final approach to JFK after a two and half hours flight from West Palm Beach when jetBlue ordered its pilots to divert to Newark.
Flight tracking website Flightradar24 showed the plane making a sharp left-hand turn as it suddenly diverted to Newark. Although inconvenient, the passengers might have been saved from a very long wait on the ground.
The situation was just as bad in JFK’s Terminal 5 where thousands of passengers were left in limbo as rolling delays plagued dozens of departing flights. Some passengers complained that JetBlue staff were nowhere to be seen, while many lamented the lack of communication from the airline.
According to Flight Aware, nearly half of all of JetBlue’s scheduled departures were delayed on Sunday. Going into Monday, the airline has already proactively cancelled 71 of its scheduled flights and that number is likely to rise over the next few hours.
Under Department of Transportation (DOT) rules, airlines must provide passengers with the opportunity to deplane within three hours if they have arrived on a domestic flight and four hours for international arrivals. The same rule applies to departing flights.
During a tarmac delay, airlines must also provide snacks and water. Failing to comply with these rules can lead to hefty fines.
In September 2021, the DOT fined United Airlines $1.9 million for lengthy tarmac delays that affected 25 flights between December 2015 and February 2021. It is the largest fine ever issued by the DOT for tarmac delay violations.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.