CHARLOTTE — Hundreds of passengers had to spend Saturday night in Charlotte-Douglas International Airports concourse after dozens of incoming flights became backed up on the tarmac during the citys brief snowstorm.
Several passengers said they waited two hours or more for their planes to taxi to the gates. The gates were not accessible because outbound jets were being de-iced, according to reports from passengers.
As a result of the delays, a large number of passengers missed connecting flights and had to sleep at the airport.
One passenger sent a copy of an audiotape to media, in which a pilot can be heard saying the delays were the fault of the Federal Aviation Administration.
But a spokeswoman from the FAA said Monday morning that traffic control at the airport is handled by the federal Department of Transportation.
The DOT could not be immediately reached.
My pilot said he had never seen anything like this in 27 years of flying, said passenger Chuck Cavalaris, of Knoxville, Tenn. He was among the many whose arrival was delayed, forcing him to spend the night at the airport.
According to passengers, the problem seemed to begin around 6:30 p.m.
Snow started falling about 4 p.m. at the airport, and 2 inches fell in less than 45 minutes. Snow continued to fall lightly for several hours afterward, and it forced airport personnel to de-ice jets that were at the gates, preparing for departure.
By 7 p.m., from the accounts of several passengers, near-gridlock conditions existed for arriving flights.
Bob Wozniak said his plane landed about 7:10 p.m.
I knew something was seriously wrong, as I gazed out my window and saw what appeared to be an endless amount of plans in front of us, littered about the taxiways, waiting to get to their gates, Wozniak said.
He said his jet slowly crept toward the gate, taking 2 1/2 hours to get there after landing. During all this, Wozniak said, planed continued landing.
As an other plane would land, the tower would have to find another place to park them in a waiting pattern to get to the terminal, he said.
In the audio sent to media, a male voice identified by the passenger as the pilot can be heard saying, There was a major major failure on the part of the Federal Aviation Administration to control the flow of traffic into the airport.
Theyre supposed to install ground stops. They lifted the ground stops, and they let the airplanes continue to arrive here.
A ground stop is ordered by flight controllers in bad weather. It prevents plans from landing or taking off and is used in the case of severe thunderstorms, strong winds, fog, or wintry precipitation.
Federal law prohibits planes from being on the tarmac for more than three hours with passengers. That regulation was put in place after incidents in which passengers sat on planes for six hours or more, waiting to get from the tarmac to the gate.
It is not clear if any flights violated that law Saturday night in Charlotte, although some passengers said they heard of cases in which the delay was four hours.
Erik Ibsen, a passenger on a flight from Los Angeles to Charlotte, sent a note Saturday night, saying his plane had been sitting and waiting on the ground for 2 1/2 hours.
I cant believe how great my 4- and 7-year-old girls have been through all this, he said.
Once the backlog was cleared away on the tarmac, the problem shifted to the concourse. Hundreds of passengers were stuck in Charlotte for the night, having missed connecting flights.
In a statement to WCNC-TV, the Observers news partner, US Airways said it assigned staff members to spend the night at the airport, to help find cots, blankets and food for stranded passengers. US Airways said Terri Pope, its Charlotte hub vice present, was among those at the airport, along with personnel from the TSA and the airport.
US Airways said it scheduled additional flights Sunday, to help passengers get on their way.
But some passengers said the overnight airport conditions were harsh.
At some point, the Red Cross was brought in to distribute blankets and cots, but this was not until 3 in the morning, Wozniak said. And they definitely did not bring enough supplies. Most of us did not even know that the Red Cross was on site, because there was no information given to us.
He said a staff member from US Airways told passengers there were no hotel rooms available because of a convention in town.
Charlotte Observer's news partner WCNC-TV contributed