Passengers stuck on tarmac at Atlanta airport kept sense of humor

Passengers stuck on tarmac at Atlanta airport kept sense of humor

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Passengers disembark from Southwest Airlines Flight 3392 from New Orleans. The plane landed at 1:30 p.m. Sunday, at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, but passengers sat on the plane for more than two hours because of the power outage just before their arrival. (Photo by Rick Crotts / AJC)

He was on an airplane so long, Jake Hollinger could’ve flown to Paris or London. Instead, he only made it from New York to Atlanta. 

After boarding a plane at 10:30 a.m. Sunday at LaGuardia airport, it would be more than 10 hours before Hollinger would be allowed to get off the Delta Air Lines flight. His flight arrived shortly after a massive power outage halted everything at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. His plane would spend nearly 8 hours on the runway before passengers were allowed off.

Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport — the world’s busiest airport — basically shut down Dec. 17. after a fire. Thousands of passengers were left in the dark, stuck on planes and searching for answers.

“I could’ve walked from the airport to Buckhead in less than 8 hours,” Hollinger joked.

Although his flight’s captain gave periodic updates, there was little information to pass along to the passengers. And for a few hours, there were snacks, water and football to watch, including the Pittsburgh vs. New England NFL game, Hollinger said.

“The entire team ended up hooting and hollering when the game ended,” he said.



Passengers on other flights also tried to stay light-hearted about the ordeal. Olympian Lolo Jones was among those frustrated passengers stuck on planes. The champion hurdler and bobsledder was admittedly hungry.

“Hi yes I would like to order a pizza the delivery address is the Atlanta airport runway,” Jones posted on her Twitter page. “Landed hours ago from Germany can’t get off plane bc customs and outage but could customs clear a pizza to come on board?”

After flying 10 hours from Germany, Jones posted that she was stuck on a plane five hours longer, along with bobsledder Jazmine Fenlator. Jones said she and Fenlator, who has competed on the U.S. and Jamaica bobsled teams, would have to share a candy bar. But otherwise, Jones remained positive in her social media posts.

It wasn’t so easy for others stranded on planes to joke about the situation. One mother of three also used social media to voice her frustrations.

“I am stranded on a plane from London Heathrow in Atl with 3 kids,” the woman posted on Twitter. “We are tired, hungry and don’t know what’s going on. We’re in transit to Panama.”

The U.S. Department of Transportation has rules in place regarding how long airlines can keep passengers aboard planes on tarmacs. But there are exceptions to those rules, and Sunday’s power outage was apparently an exception.

“Exceptions to the time limits are allowed only for safety, security, or air traffic control-related reasons,” the DOT website states. “You should not exit the airplane unless told by the airline that you can do so safely.”

The rules, which went into effect in 2009, require airlines departing from a U.S. airport to begin moving the airplane to a location where passengers can safely get off before three hours for domestic flights and four hours for international flights.

While Georgia Power crews and firefighters worked for hours Sunday to extinguish a blaze in an underground substation, passengers on many planes were forced to stay put.

On Hollinger’s plane, there were pretzels and almonds, but water bottles were gone at 5 p.m. He and others were hopeful a truck that pulled up beside the plane would replenish the supplies. Instead, it was a septic truck, Hollinger said.

At 8:45 p.m., a ladder was brought over to the plane so everyone could exit into darkness, guided by a few flashlights and cellphones. Inside the airport, Hollinger watched as sweat-drenched emergency responders carried people who were unable to climb a motionless escalator. Since he hadn’t checked a suitcase, Hollinger was able to board a MARTA bus with all of his belongings and head home. Those who did check bags were told to retrieve them later on.

He’s supposed to fly home to Ohio on Tuesday, but Hollinger isn’t sure whether that flight will be affected since hundreds of flights were cancelled as a result of the power outage. Somehow, he’s still thankful he made it back to his Atlanta home when he did.

“It was miserable, but the entire time I was thinking this could be so much worse,” Hollinger said.

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