'Unprecedented' fog blamed for 28-hour airline trip

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Passengers furious after 28-hour flight 02:48

Story highlights

  • Etihad Airways blames heavy fog for keeping passengers on plane for 12 hours before an 18-hour flight
  • The delay sparked tensions between passengers and crew on the flight from Abu Dhabi to San Francisco
  • In the U.S., passengers can remain on the tarmac for 3 hours before they must be offered a chance to disembark

(CNN)Being stuck on the ground in an airliner for 12 hours is bad enough, but then imagine having to stay in the plane for another 16 hours to reach your destination.

That's what happened Saturday in Abu Dhabi for passengers and crew aboard Etihad Airways Flight 183, a Boeing 777 scheduled to fly to San Francisco. The airline apologized, blaming an "unprecedented fog disruption" that forced the airport to close runways until authorities said it was safe to take off.
Passengers expected to push back from the gate at 2:30 a.m. Saturday, but they didn't go wheels up until 2:30 p.m., the airline said.
One passenger, Thomas Piani, told CNN affiliate KGO that the crew "kept telling us that we were going to leave, you know 15 minutes from now, 20 minutes from now, 30 minutes for now, for 12 hours," which ratcheted frustrations higher and higher. Tension was obvious in the tone of passenger tweets.
"...crew won't serve food," tweeted @SuzeTwtr
Passenger Venkatesh Pahwa told KGO, "Everybody was fighting with each other, and the flight attendants were fighting with us, and we were fighting with the flights attendants."
"Stuck in an @EtihadAirways flight on the ground for 10+ hours. And not allowed to get off. I feel like I'm in a 'Seinfeld' episode," passenger Ravali Reddy tweeted.
In a statement, Etihad said that when the plane was on the ground awaiting permission to take off, "passengers were provided with refreshments and were updated about the reasons for the rolling delay caused by the extreme weather conditions."
The airline said replacing the crew before taking off also contributed to the delay. A fresh crew had to be brought in because of rules that limit flight-time. The non-stop route from the Abu Dhabi to San Francisco is an ultra-long haul lasting 16 hours.
The situation, Etihad said, was "impacted by circumstances which were largely beyond our control."
Bad weather costs airlines and passengers flying into and out of the U.S. billions of dollars because of canceled and delayed flights. In the United States, federal regulations forbid airlines with 30 or more passenger seats on their domestic flights to allow their planes to remain on the tarmac for more than three hours without giving passengers the opportunity to disembark. Violators are subject to federal fines.
In July 2012, passengers on 13 United Airlines flights were stuck on their planes during severe thunderstorms at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport for stretches ranging from just over three hours to nearly four-and-a-half hours. The Department of Transportation fined the airline $1.1 million.