Passengers stranded when no one can unload plane at Pittsburgh International

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Officially speaking, the Delta Air Lines flight that landed at Pittsburgh International Airport early Friday morning never flew. But don’t tell that to the passengers who have the scars to prove that it did.

After being forced to wait four hours at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport to take off, the passengers were stuck on a tarmac in Pittsburgh for another hour when no one was around to get them off their regional jet.

Unbeknownst to the travelers, flight 2931 handled by Endeavor Air for some unknown reason was listed as canceled after it took off from New York at 12:40 a.m. By the time it arrived at the gate in Pittsburgh, all of the Delta workers apparently had gone home for the night, leaving no one to connect the jetway to the plane so they could get off.

Eric Schaffer, a Reed Smith attorney who was on the flight, said the plane landed about 2:30 but that it was another hour before the travelers finally made it into the terminal. He said there were 76 people aboard the flight. Delta listed the flight as landing at 3:13 a.m.

JoAnn Jenny, a Pittsburgh International spokeswoman, said the airport learned at 3:07 a.m. that the plane had landed and was waiting at gate D82 without any ground crew to handle it. The airport apparently was notified by a cleaner that the jet was there.

The airport, she said, contacted the Delta station manager and got permission to use its own employees to connect the jetway and remove the passengers.

“Despite the situation, our operations staff was sensitive to the fact that the pilot wanted to deplane the passengers even though it’s not our job to pull up the jetway,” she said.

Pittsburgh International has its own airline services department that maintains and operates jetways and handles the airport’s automated baggage system, she said, adding it is staffed around the clock.

Ms. Jenny said the travelers aboard flight 2931 had been removed from the plane and were headed to baggage claim by 3:30 a.m. She said that Delta employees showed up about 10 minutes later and that checked luggage got to the baggage carousels by 3:50.

Delta said it is investigating the situation.

“Delta regrets the inconvenience to customers for the weather and air traffic control delays of Endeavor Air flight 2931 on Aug. 21 from New York-JFK to Pittsburgh,” it said in a statement. “Delta is looking into what may have caused erroneous cancellation information that prompted a deplaning delay after the flight arrived in Pittsburgh.”

Asked if Delta employees left for the night after learning that the flight had been canceled, airline spokesman Morgan Durrant said it’s “too soon to say definitively but that’s one possibility at play.”

Mr. Schaffer said passengers were told after the plane landed that there was no one at the gate “to bring us in. They said they were calling over and there was no one there.” He said those on the jet grew more upset as the delay lengthened.

After the plane touched down, some passengers turned on their cell phones to find that the flight they had just taken had been canceled. Mr. Schaffer said he received a notification later that he had been rebooked on a 7:30 flight Friday morning.

“I travel a lot. I understand that you can have delays because of weather. I understand you can have delays because of equipment issues. But this is the first time I was ever on a flight that got lost,” he said.


Mark Belko: mbelko@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1262.

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