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Plane's pilot, passengers tell of 8-hour wait at Connecticut airport

By Ric Ward, CNN
updated 9:57 PM EDT, Mon October 31, 2011
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Plane bound for Newark on Saturday was rerouted to Hartford airport
  • Pilot: Crying baby, fighting, two passengers' medical conditions ramped up tension
  • "I'm going to need to have the cops onboard," flight crew member told tower
  • JetBlue apologizes, saying weather and size of airport contributed to backlog

(CNN) -- A JetBlue pilot isn't happy with his employer after being stuck on the tarmac of a Connecticut airport for some eight hours on Saturday. Neither are many of his passengers.

Flights from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to Newark, New Jersey, are usually uneventful -- two-plus hours of flight and then taxi to the gate -- but throw in a freak October snowstorm and it's a different story.

JetBlue Flight 504 departed Fort Lauderdale at 10:07 a.m. ET Saturday -- 32 minutes late.

The flight made it to Newark -- just not to the runway, thanks to the weather and was diverted to Bradley International Airport near Hartford, Connecticut. It landed at 1:07 p.m.

Passengers stranded on the tarmac
Passengers stranded on the tarmac
Time-lapse of the snowfall in New Jersey

What came next was an eight-hour ordeal for passengers -- and crew -- as the plane sat stuck on the tarmac with little food or water.

"I got a problem here on the airplane. I'm going to need to have the cops onboard," a flight crew member told the tower in a conversation posted on LiveATC.net, a website that monitors air traffic control conversations. "I need some air stairs brought over here and the cops brought onboard the airplane."

Passenger Roseann Kozma explained the situation in a phone interview with CNN affiliate WTIC-TV from the plane.

"A couple passengers are fighting and there's a baby on here that's been crying the whole time," she said.

"We cannot go to the bathrooms anymore. There's no running water," said Todd Bailey, another passenger. "They tell us that we're going to be going in soon, going in soon, going in soon -- and it just never happens."

Adding to the frustration and tension were passengers with medical conditions.

"I have a paraplegic that needs to come off," the pilot said. "I have a diabetic here that's got an issue ... I've just got to get some help."

But the plane was still not at a gate, further frustrating the pilot.

"Look, you know, we can't seem to get any help from our own company," the pilot told the tower. "I apologize for this, but if there is any way you can get a tug and a tow bar out here to us and get us towed somewhere to a gate or something. I don't care, take us anywhere."

The pilot, though frustrated, offered thanks to Bradley International officials.

"Listen, I just want to put in my two cents worth in for whatever it worth. Thank you very much," he said. "It's Capt. Thompson over here on (Flight) 504 ... I think we've got more help from you guys than our own people."

The passengers broke into applause when the door finally opened, saying "Let us out! Let us out! Let us out!"

JetBlue apologized for the situation and blamed it on a "confluence of events," including intermittent power outages that complicated matters.

"We worked with the airport to secure services, but our flights were six of the 23 reported diversions into Hartford, including international flights (picture big jets carrying hundreds of people), the airline said on its website. "Getting all the flights deplaned at the same time in a small airport is not unlike trying to get an elephant into a smart car; it's not an easy fit."

Passengers deplaned around 9 p.m., according to JetBlue.

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