Anxiety and frustration reached a boiling point on an American Airlines flight Sunday night after passengers say they were stuck on the tarmac for hours.
As the hours passed, John Puff said the situation became more unbearable.
“People started shouting. Demanding answers. By that point everybody was standing in the aisle of the plane,” he said.
His American Airlines flight headed into Dallas-Fort Worth was diverted and grounded in San Antonio Sunday night. He said the plane sat on the tarmac for nearly seven hours.
“Some people complained that they had medical issues. They were concerned about anything from diabetes to sitting too long," Puff said. "People were starting to talk like, 'Hey, we can open the doors ourselves.' You want to do that but can’t do that. It started to get scary. We got off at the right time."
Exposure to COVID-19 was also a concern as time went on and people started to ask for food and water.
“They were passing it person to person over everyone's shoulder,” he said. “And I raised the objection that in the COVID-19 world that's a little bit risky. It was the hand-to-hand contact and close proximity that was a concern.”
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Kristy Waterman was traveling with her children and said she worried about exposure as well.
“Just from a numbers standpoint I've spent the last 24 hours stuck in crowded rooms with absolutely no social distancing,” Waterman said.
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, airlines are required to give passengers an opportunity to get off a plane within 3 hours of arriving on a domestic flight unless safety, security or air traffic control prevents it.
The transportation department also said airlines must provide a snack, such as a granola bar, and drinking water no later than two hours after the aircraft leaves the gate or touches down.
American Airlines released the following statement:
“Due to severe weather in North Texas Sunday evening, nearly 85 American Airlines flights were diverted to other airports throughout the region. The extended FAA-issued ground stop at DFW caused additional delays – even after customers were offered the ability to deplane – and some flights remained overnight at other airports. Customers who did not make it to DFW Sunday evening were provided with free hotel accommodations and continued their journey this morning.
“We never want to disrupt our passenger's travel and apologize for any inconvenience this severe weather caused our customers. Our customer relations team is reaching out to those customers who were impacted by the weather Sunday evening.”
Waterman and others said there was no offer to deplane within the first three hours. Within several hours of sitting on the plane for several hours, she wrote a letter to airline leadership to uphold its commitment to safety. After what she witnessed, she said she doesn't feel the airline is prepared for unforeseen circumstances amid a pandemic.
“We took a calculated risk. There were a lot of internal debates within my family about whether or not we would get on that plane, to begin with,” she said. “It just felt like there was no contingency planning in place.”
American Airlines said it would look into reports that some customers were not offered the ability to deplane, but also have reports of passengers refusing the offer to deplane in an attempt to wait out the weather.