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Surprise Oct. snowstorm causes rise in tarmac delays

NEW YORK — There were 33 planes stuck on the ground for more than three hours in October, the most in a single month since a rule intended to limit long delays took effect last April.

The culprit? An Oct. 29 snowstorm in the Northeast, where significant snow is rarely seen before Thanksgiving. Seven of the flights were domestic, while 26 were international, the government said Monday. October is the second month in which international flights were included in the tally.

Most of the delays occurred at Bradley International Airport in Hartford, Conn. Flights were diverted there because bad weather and equipment problems prevented them from landing at New York-area airports.

The longest delay was a JetBlue flight from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., that sat on the Bradley tarmac for nearly eight hours. The captain of that flight, number 504, begged for help to get his plane to a gate, saying passengers were becoming unruly and he had paraplegic and diabetic passengers who needed to get off.

Within a week after the incident, the Federal Aviation Administration began holding conference calls with national and regional airports to discuss problems in the flow of air traffic. The head of the FAA said that much of the day’s chaos could have been avoided through better communication between airlines, airports and air traffic controllers. The agency said it’s launching a hotline and a website for airports to notify them of problems on the ground, including shortages of available gates or problems with snow removal and de-icing equipment.

Cancellations overall were down in October from both the month and year before. And a greater percentage of flights arrived on time. The best airlines at getting passengers to their destinations on time were Hawaiian, Alaska and AirTran. The worst were JetBlue, regional carrier ExpressJet and Continental.

Complaints were up 15 percent from a year earlier, but down 11 percent from the month before.