- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 23, 2010

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Passengers on a diverted Virgin Atlantic Airways flight spent more than four hours stuck in a hot, dark plane parked on a tarmac, while babies squirmed and people yelled and screamed. At least three people fainted and were taken away in ambulances.

Bad weather Tuesday night forced the aircraft, flying to Newark, N.J., from London, to divert to Bradley International Airport, which serves Hartford and Springfield, Mass. Passengers told CNN they landed at about 8:20 p.m. and were kept on the plane until about 1 a.m. Wednesday without food or water.

“It was like four hours on the ground without any air conditioning. It was crazy, just crazy,” passenger Beth Willan told CNN. “There were babies on the plane. And we are in dark and hot. You try to be patient, but people were yelling and screaming.”

A reporter from the Press of Atlantic City, N.J., was on the flight with members of a girls varsity crew team from Egg Harbor Township, N.J. She said the plane’s electricity went out at least twice and two small fires broke out underneath the plane.

The airline’s London office said the 300 passengers on Flight VS001 were being bused to Newark on Wednesday morning.

Virgin Atlantic would like to thank passengers for their patience and apologise for any inconvenience cause,” the airline said in a statement.

Janine Doy, a Virgin spokeswoman in London, told the Associated Press on Wednesday that Bradley “isn’t used to dealing with international flights” and had to call customs and immigration officials back to the airport Tuesday night to process the passengers. She said the airline was forced to keep people on the plane.

“It was a situation that was beyond our control,” Ms. Doy said. “There were weather conditions… . Bradley had to get customs and immigration to the airport.”

A new federal rule on flights stuck on runways went into effect in April and bans U.S. carriers from making passengers wait on planes for longer than three hours. But because the London-to-Newark flight was international, it isn’t eligible for a fine under the tarmac-delay rule.

Ms. Doy said she was checking into the passengers’ reports of the plane not having air conditioning.

She said the planes have water fountains aboard, but she wasn’t sure whether any food was left over after the in-flight meals had been served.

Ken Cast, an airport operations specialist at Bradley, said Virgin is not one of the airport’s carriers and the airline had to call in personnel to handle the passengers.

“Being an international flight, it’s not like you can let people wander aimlessly,” Mr. Cast told the AP. “They need to be processed, and they need to be kept safe. Everyone has to clear customs.

“The rules still need to be followed,” Mr. Cast said. “Everyone was safe. They may have been uncomfortable, but they were safe. It’s better to be on the ground wishing you were somewhere else than to be in the air wishing you were on the ground.”

Mr. Cast confirmed that a few passengers who weren’t feeling well were treated by paramedics. Details on the sick passengers weren’t immediately available.

A Bradley Airport spokesman, John Wallace, said the airport doesn’t have a lot of international flights and customs officials generally work during the day. He said customs personnel got back to the airport about an hour after being called Tuesday night.

“Everyone did the best they could under the circumstances,” Mr. Wallace said. “The process to do clearance when you have 300 people is going to take a while, plus their luggage.”

Bradley’s only regular international passenger flights are to and from Toronto and Montreal, but the airport does have many international cargo flights, Mr. Wallace said.

The Obama administration has proposed extending the rules on tarmac delays to international flights and making sure international carriers have contingency plans to handle passengers who’ve been kept waiting for long periods.

The Virgin Atlantic flight was diverted as showers and strong thunderstorms moved through the Northeast on Tuesday night.

Temperatures at Bradley International Airport were in the mid-60s to low-70s with uncomfortable humidity at the time the Virgin plane was on the tarmac, said Charlie Foley, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.



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