Note to airline passengers flying from overseas into the USA: if you’re on a US flag carrier airline, the law says that you can’t be kept captive on the plane after landing for more than 3 hours without the airline incurring a huge fine of up to US$27,500 per passenger! For an aircraft carrying 200 passengers, the fine could be as much as US$5.5 million per flight!
But if you’re flying into the USA on a foreign airline such as Cathay Pacific, or British Airways, or Lufthansa, or Aero Mexico, or Air France, no such law applies.
So it seems like more than just a coincidence that after the recent blizzard in the northeast USA this week, no USA airlines arriving at John F. Kennedy Airport (JFK) in New York City from overseas was forced to hold passengers on airplanes for an extended period of time. But passengers arriving from overseas at JFK aboard the above-mentioned foreign airlines were held hostage for as long as eleven hours.
Everyone is ducking the question about how or why the arriving US carriers were somehow favored. The airlines, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and the US Customs and Border Protection Agency were all pointing fingers at each other, blaming the other two for this “passenger imprisonment” fiasco.
All passengers arriving into the USA from foreign countries must be processed through US Customs and immigration procedures before being allowed entry into the USA beyond the US customs area.
The airlines and Port Authority have claimed that Customs officials sent their staff home early, so no one was available to process the international arrivals. Custom denied that, claiming that their personnel were working multiple shifts to ensure adequate staffing to process arriving passengers.
Port Authority claimed the airlines allowed their flights to come in even though they didn’t have enough gates. The airlines denied that.
The airlines claimed that the Port Authority should have done a better job of ensuring sufficient gates were available. The Port Authority responded that they are not responsible when the airlines jam the airport with overseas arrivals.
Port Authority spokesman Steve Coleman said, while trying to explain how and why such a thing can happen, that “There is just no place that you can dump 1,000 people in a secured area for a period of time.”
JFK has one of the largest terminal-building complexes in the world. The airport property, with its many terminals, hangers, airport vehicle, equipment storage facilities, and maintenance facilities, etc., etc. approximates an average-sized western town. All these structures are staffed with lots of people. Even in the aftermath of the blizzard, the facilities had some folks present whom either never left or happily braved snow drifts in their HUMVEEs, anyway.
Additionally, both the New York National Guard and the NYPD, among others, have ways to get through any environmental mess like a blizzard cleanup. Like helicopters, tractors, etc.
Furthermore, every large airport has vehicles with adjustable airline style stairways attached so that they can service unexpected emergencies on commercial jets. And think about Air Force One when it lands at most airports. A truck with an airline-style stairway pulls up to the president’s B747 so that he can get off the plane.
And finally, JFK has buses that can transport passengers in the event of a specific need.
Mix all that up, and what do you have?
At best, incompetence. At worst…premeditation?
First, as reported by the LA Times, from the time that fines went into effect against US airlines if they delayed arriving passengers on jets longer than three hours, US airlines have had only 8 flights that were delayed longer than three hours, compared with 529 flights during the same time period before the fines were adopted. That fact clearly demonstrates that the airlines have near-total control in this situation.
Second, that several thousand passengers were essentially abducted/imprisoned/held captive on airplanes without even the police being allowed to bring them food and other necessities, as requested in at least one case by the captain of Aero Mexico, clearly shows arrogance and insensitivity.
The airlines, the Port Authority, and even US Customs could easily have established a temporary holding area in one of the many facilities. Security could have been provided by the NYPD and/or National Guard and/or JFK security force (or any combination thereof). In fact, why wasn’t a similar plan formulated long before the blizzard??
Why? Because these are foreign airlines not subject to fines, so no process exists to help them do what the US carriers have done: Avoid these tarmac delays. The foreign carriers just have to deal with really pissed-off customers….people that might choose Untied or American or Delta next time.
Works great for the US carriers all around, doesn’t it?
Unbridled, unregulated protectionist capitalism at work, don’t’cha know. Sarah and her Tea Party compatriots must be SOOoo proud.
Have a GREAT 2011, everyone. The 2012 political campaign starts NOW. 🙂