Hundreds of passengers on at least six other flights reported similar delays after thunderstorms brought down trees, inundated roads and left thousands without power in the Washington area. The crash raised questions about whether the industry is ready for the summer travel season as it grapples with persistent labor shortages and weather-related disruptions that have long been the biggest source of delays.
The Federal Aviation Administration temporarily suspended flights Sunday evening at National, as well as at Washington Dulles International, Baltimore and Washington Marshall International Airports, until conditions improve. But in the worst-hit National, a backlog appears to have left the airport without enough gates to accommodate all arrivals.
According to the flight tracking website FlightAwareMore than a quarter of flights scheduled to arrive on Sunday to National have been postponed, while an additional 14 percent have been cancelled. Among departures, nearly 30 percent were delayed while 19 percent were canceled.
The National and Dolce saw winds gusting up to 59 miles per hour as the storms passed.
Despite the surge in demand for air travel, airlines have scaled back their schedules in recent months as they hoped to avoid a repeat of last summer, when weather-related delays — exacerbated by staff shortages — left tens of thousands of customers stranded. Airlines are trying to replace more than 50,000 workers who have left the industry since the start of the pandemic. Thousands of newly recruits are still in training.
While airlines say they are focusing on running reliable operations, some travelers, including those caught up in Sunday night delays at National, said frequent disruptions are making them rethink air travel.
Eric Sherling’s patience was already running out by the time he reached Washington. His original flight from Birmingham, Ala., which was due to depart early on Sunday, has been cancelled, and the rebooked flight has been delayed several times. He was hoping his long day would be approaching More when he arrived at National Stadium at 12:24 a.m. on Monday, only to have the captain announce another problem.
“The pilot told us there were no gates because everyone got to the airport at the same time,” said Shierling, the project engineer.
When he looked out the window and saw two more planes parked on the right and two more planes on the left, his heart sank.
It took four hours before the passengers were allowed off the plane, then he still needed to catch another flight to get to Connecticut, where he was headed for work. He said the crew did their best, providing snacks and water, until they broke into a batch of goodies meant for first class passengers.
The two-day delays brought additional expenses and hassles.
“I’m angry and crazy,” he said on Monday as he waited. He was originally scheduled to fly to Bradley International outside Hartford, a 30-minute drive to his work site, but the only flight available on Monday was to Albany, about 90 minutes away. “I wouldn’t be in this situation if my original flight wasn’t cancelled. That’s what makes me so angry with American Airlines.”
Passengers said airport officials denied US requests to use shuttle buses It can carry passengers to the terminal, as well as requests to move aircraft near the lobby so that passengers can be escorted to the terminal.
Officials with the Washington, DC Airports Authority, which manages operations at the national airport, declined to comment. Rob Yingling, a spokesman for the national airport, referred questions regarding Sunday night’s events to individual airlines.
In a statement, American Airlines officials blamed the weather.
“A small number of incoming flights experienced landing delays while waiting for available gates in the arrival hall,” the statement said. “We apologize to our customers for the inconvenience and thank our team members who worked hard to resolve the situation.”
The Ministry of Transport closely regulates runway delays that occur before aircraft take off or after they land.
Under the rule set in 2010, airlines are required to allow domestic passengers to exit within three hours, while international passengers must be able to depart. Within four hours. After two hours, airlines are required to provide water and snacks while ensuring restrooms are working.
The regulation was put in place after high-profile incidents where passengers were stranded on planes for 10 hours or more. Such cases are investigated by the Ministry’s Aviation Consumer Protection Office.
It was not clear on Monday whether American Airlines would face fines for the delay. Transportation Department officials did not respond to inquiries on Sunday.
John Rodriguez, a resident of Arlington, said he would be returning home on Sunday from a trip to Birmingham. His original flight was scheduled to land at 8:30 p.m., but the rebooked flight didn’t land until after midnight. He and his fellow passengers spent another four hours sitting on the plane.
Rodriguez said he saw at least six other planes that also appeared to be stuck. Hosts distributed cookies and water, while the captain provided hourly updates, he said.
Outside the airport, nearly 40,000 customers were out of power on Sunday evening in Virginia, PowerOutage.US. By Monday evening, a few customers were still without power, according to Dominion Energy. The company said power was also returned to Pepco’s customers in the county and Maryland.
Matthew Capucci contributed to this report.
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