The trip from hell sounds like an episode straight out of “The Twilight Zone.”
The weather forecast was less than ideal for the Delta Air Lines flight that left Monday afternoon bound for John F. Kennedy International Airport from Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic, but no one aboard could have imagined just how bad things would get.
According to multiple news reports and tweets from the passengers themselves — the four-hour flight turned into a 30-hour nightmare with two flight diversions caused by bad weather. At one point, the turbulence was so bad, one passenger told NBC that she thought the plane was going to break in half.
“I’ve never seen an air sick bag used before and many were,” said Lauren Karasek, another passenger aboard the flight.
Delta apologized for the problems.
In an emailed statement Wednesday, spokesman Michael Thomas confirmed the multiple diversions.
Delta flight 944 from Punta Cana was unable to land at JFK due to runway conditions and inclement weather in the New York area. The flight diverted to Manchester (N.H.) where it remained overnight to comply with mandated crew rest requirements. The flight redeparted for JFK the following day as Delta flight 9929 but diverted to Boston as a result of severe weather in New York. With improving conditions, the flight arrived at JFK before 8 p.m. EST Tuesday.
Karasek said the flight left as scheduled, bound for New York with no indication that anything was amiss. Even as the flight circled the airport, passengers aboard were unconcerned. Looking out the window, passengers could see there was heavy cloud cover and snow. Then the captain spoke.
“He said that we were low on fuel and had to land in 10 minutes or we needed to be diverted,” Karasek, 30, recalled.
So diverted they were — to Manchester, which would have been all well and good– except that the airport isn’t equipped to handle international travel so there were no customs officials to process the 160 or so passengers. (Delta officials told PIX 11 that agents were brought in from Portland, Maine 95 miles away).
Then there were other problems. Because of heavy snow and cold, the plane had to be de-iced. And, because the flight had taken so long, there was a risk that the crew would “time-out” meaning they’d reached the maximum amount of time they could fly.
They missed the window. Karasek said passengers resigned themselves to spending the night in Manchester. But efforts to get passengers off the plane also ran into trouble. The first set of stairs ground crews rolled up to the plane didn’t fit. A second set of stairs had to be brought in. Only 20 people were allowed off the plane at time, but Karasek felt lucky to be in the second group.
Could the long nightmare finally be coming to an end?
No such luck. When Karasek and her friends arrived at the terminal there was no one from Delta to meet them except an airport security guard who’d radioed Delta that people were waiting.
So she and her friends struck out on their own, found a hotel and settled in for the night. About 1 a.m. they received an email from Delta, apologizing for the problems and offering them 12,500 Skymiles. They heard nothing more until the next morning when they called at 8 a.m. and were told their flight would be leaving at 11 a.m.
But this would not be the end either.
The plane left Manchester and made two attempts to land at JFK in what Karasek was later told were 60 mile-per-hour winds. People were being tossed around the plane, she said. Air-sick bags were deployed. Several people requested oxygen, which was offered using portable tanks.
“I’m a frequent flier and I’ve never seen turbulence like this,” she said. She pulled out a packet of Dramamine, which she bought to combat car-sickness, took a pill and passed the rest of the packet to her fellow passengers.
“There were a lot of people getting sick, several people needed oxygen,” passenger Maribel Reyes told NBC. “It was really bad, I never experienced turbulence like that. I thought the plane was going to break in half. The pilot described it as a blender.”
The pilot announced he was diverting to Boston. The flight landed about 3 p.m. But once there, Karasek said, agents refused to open the door to let them into the terminal.
“People were banging on the door,” she said. “The captain was advocating to let us go.”
Karasek understands there may have been security concerns. A compromise was worked out. The ground crew finally relented, asking passengers to provide their names and seat numbers before letting them off. Once off the plane, Karasek and her friends decided they’d had enough. They bought train tickets.
Karasek arrived home at 11 p.m. Tuesday night. She remembers because she shot a video of her joy at finally arriving home.
According to Gothamist, only 90 of the 159 passengers were still aboard when the flight finally landed at JFK around 8 p.m. Tuesday.
— Kahlua Coffee Jer (@ejeremy98) February 16, 2016
For her part, Karasek is keeping it all in perspective. “Yes, this sucks, but there are plenty of other travesties in the world – let’s just take a minute to remember that,” she said.
And while Karasek praised the flight crew as more than gracious given the circumstances, she’s less pleased with Delta’s customer service. Between the hotel and train tickets, she estimates she and her friends spent roughly $650. Her efforts to reach Delta via Twitter about possible reimbursement were not so successful. Wednesday afternoon, airline representatives told her she would not be eligible for reimbursement. She took a screen shot of the exchange:
— Lauren Karasek (@ElleKarasek) February 17, 2016
Thomas, the Delta spokesman, confirmed the offer of 12,500 Skymiles, adding that those who don’t have frequent flier accounts with the airline were offered vouchers, but he could not say for how much. He also said the airline would evaluate other situations like Karasek’s.