Passengers left waiting for hours on plane, airliner blames Saints parade

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by Bigad Shaban / Eyewitness News

wwltv.com

Posted on February 10, 2010 at 7:33 AM

Updated Thursday, Feb 11 at 12:53 PM

NEW ORLEANS -  Angry, frustrated, and confused--those are just a few of the lingering emotions being felt by close to 100 United Airlines passengers still stranded in New Orleans.

Their packed flight to Los Angeles was supposed to leave at 7:18pm Tuesday evening, but after spending 3 hours on the plane, flight #263 never took off.
 
“The flight that they rescheduled us to doesn’t leave until 2:30 or 3pm [Wednesday] afternoon,” said Dwight Webster, a passenger trying to get back home to Oakland, California. “So all in all it will be 24 hours before I get home.”
 
Passengers say they were left waiting because the plane’s pilots were more than 2.5 hours late. According to United Airlines, passengers were free to move on and off the plane while it was parked at the gate.  The airliner says the reason for the pilots' late arrival was due to heavy traffic as a result of the Saints parade. 
 
"The van that was supposed to pick up the pilots of the plane was accidentally misdirected and then caught up in the huge amount of traffic due to the Super Bowl celebration in New Orleans,” said Megan McCarthy, United Airlines spokesperson. “The pilots eventually had to make their own way to the airport, which took a very long time and delayed them severely (at one point they had to walk a long distance...to get to the van).”
 
Once the pilots boarded, however, some passengers began accusing them of being drunk. 
 
 “I didn’t see blood shot eyes, but he looked kind of staggery, a little tipsy,” said passenger Jaime Roberts. “He had a very rude attitude.”
 
Photos snapped by one passenger show a Jefferson Parish Sheriff's deputy on board interviewing people after one first-class passenger, coincidentally a pilot himself, called 9-1-1 for fear the pair of on-duty pilots were intoxicated.
 
"In terms of the accussations of them being drunk, it isn't true," said a stern McCarthy.  The airline spokesperson adamantly denies the allegations and points to the findings of law enforcement authorties who were called to the scene.
 
According to passengers, the deputies did not perform a breathalyzer test, but eventually concluded the pilots were not under any influence.“Allegations into the original complaint were determined to be un-founded,” said Sgt. Larry Dyess, spokesman for the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office.
 
"We were kind of unsure whether to be on the plane or not,” said Paul Childs, a passenger from Los Angeles. “Some people had gotten off already and then we decided we'll sit down there and then I heard other passengers saying I don't feel comfortable with this, we want [the pilot] to take a breathalyzer test and then I saw the pilot stand up and said, ‘we're done, call United---we don't like these allegations, we're not flying.’"
 
McCarthy is giving a different reason for the cancelled flight. 
 
"By the time the pilots arrived at the airport, the flight crew that was standing by on the plane was 'past their duty time', which means that they cannot fly because they have been on the clock too long,” said McCarthy. “Thus, the flight was cancelled."
 
By midnight, after passengers had picked up their luggage from the baggage claim area, they still appeared to be stranded at the airport. 
 
 “We have probably about 100 people and nobody knows where to go, nobody knows what to do,” said Tom Baker, a resident of Los Angeles.
 
Baker says United Airlines officials told passengers that a shuttle had been arranged to pick everyone up in order to bring them to a nearby Ramada Hotel. Passengers were provided a hotel voucher for the Ramada, but the shuttle never arrived —forcing passengers to pay their own way there.
 
“We missed the [Saints] parade and still now have to find a taxi to get wherever we’re going,” said Webster. “I’m a little annoyed right now.”

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