Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Stranded passengers on diverted flights: Let them eat pizza!

pepperoni pizzaJoe Sharkey says in his On the Road column in the New York Times that the best choices for places for air passengers to be stranded are Syracuse and Albany. His choices were strongly influenced by some pizza deliveries.

His story begins with the tale of Delta Air Lines Flight 424, which was en route from Phoenix to New York's JFK airport on August 17, when it was diverted to Syracuse because of severe weather in the New York City area. That was the bad news.

The good news, according to a passenger who was on the flight, was that immediately after announcing the diversion, the captain added: “I’m not going to keep you on the plane. I’m going to pull up to a gate where you can get off, as long as you wait there in case we have to leave. I know you’ve only had cheese and crackers. So I called the Sbarro in the terminal and asked them to keep sending pizzas out until the whole plane gets fed.”

The passenger who told the story to Joe Sharkey said that tables were set up in the gate area, and flight attendants helped serve, while the pilot made repeated announcement to keep everyone informed about their prospects for getting underway again.
“Finally, he said, ‘All right, everybody back on the plane, we have a slot,’ ” [the passenger] said.

“On the plane, the flight attendants kept saying, ‘If anybody needs anything, just ask and we’ll do the best we can. We’re all in this together.’ ”

The two pilots on Flight 424 were Gary Hale and Ty Rhame. The flight attendants were David Evans, Nancy Grimshaw and Melisa Walker.

Lynn Casey, a Delta customer service agent, paid for the pizza at the Syracuse airport — and did the same thing for another flight from the West Coast that had been diverted there the same afternoon, a Delta spokeswoman said.
The same day, there was another pizza service for a different group of stranded passengers. This time it was at Albany, where a Continental Express flight en route to Newark had been diverted due to the same weather system.

In this instance, the heroes were John O’Donnell, the airport’s chief executive, and Doug Myers, the airport’s public affairs director. Having been stranded in a grounded aircraft for five hours themselves one time, they decided to put a plan in place to feed long-stranded passengers at their airport, should the situation arise.

On August 17, that plan was activated, and pizza was delivered to the Continental Express aircraft when the pilot had to return to the gate for refueling.
“We’d already heard all the talk” about stranded passengers on crowded planes for 3, 6 and even 10 hours, often without food or water, Mr. Myers said, adding,

“We decided we can’t let this kind of thing happen in Albany.”
Could this be the start of a new trend?