12 hours on the icy tarmac: KCI passengers bemoan ‘worst air travel day experience’

How snow and ice are removed at Kansas City International Airport

Kansas City Aviation Department crews have a well-coordinated plan to make sure runways at KCI are clean during a winter storm. Sill images from Kansas City Aviation Department.
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Kansas City Aviation Department crews have a well-coordinated plan to make sure runways at KCI are clean during a winter storm. Sill images from Kansas City Aviation Department.

Ann Ngo tried to remain calm as she sat on a plane half a day, waiting to fly back to her home in Los Angeles. She stretched out on her seat. She sent selfies to family. She munched on the bit of cheese and pretzels provided by flight attendants.

She wondered, each of the several times the plane backed away from the gate, if it would finally take off.

It never did. The flight was among the many canceled or delayed during Tuesday’s ice storm, including Delta, Southwest, American and United flights. Exasperation spilled out on social media from flyers — and the problems may continue Thursday. KCI spokesman Joe McBride said passengers flying Thursday morning should check with their airlines for potential delays or cancellations as another ice storm approaches.

With another round of freezing rain coming tonight, we compare the forecasts between the National Weather Service and local meteorologists. Maps from National Weather Service.

Delta received some of passengers’ most pointed ire as frustration mounted throughout the day.

In all, Ngo sat on the plane from 6:30 a.m. to about 6 p.m. Passengers were allowed off at various times to buy food, but Ngo described the day as her worst ever as a traveler.

Delta passengers waited nearly 12 hours for their plane to takeoff from KCI. Then the flight was canceled. Ann Ngo described it as the worst travel day of her life. Ann Ngo

Matt Montgomery was also on the Delta flight. He wrote on Twitter that “the gross incompetence associated with flight #2195 defies all logic,” but he also acknowledged that weather-related delays were not to be taken lightly.

Ngo said she was lucky to have family in the area after the flight was finally canceled.

But on Wednesday morning, her Delta flight was again delayed, forcing her to book a new flight that departed about 5 p.m. — about 34 hours after her original flight.

“It was a s---show,” Ngo said.

She added she was forced to take two vacation days due to the travel problems. She received a $100 voucher from Delta.

Montgomery added that after the flight was canceled Tuesday, no Delta representatives met passengers at the gate as they left. Instead, passengers received a card with a Delta customer service number.

When reached by email, a Delta spokeswoman did not say how or if passengers from the flight were being compensated.

“Delta apologizes to those customers whose flights were disrupted as a result of yesterday’s weather,” wrote Lisa Hellerstedt, a spokeswoman for Delta. “The significant amount of ice accumulation drove prolonged de-icing times, prompting some flights to return to the gate which in turn impacted wait times for arriving aircraft as Delta crews worked to clear departing aircraft of ice.

“Delta has proactively reached out to customers and (has) reaccommodated those affected on alternate flights.”

McBride, the KCI spokesman, said Delta was the only airline he was aware of that had “significant delays.”

He added that de-icing duties are the responsibility of airlines, not KCI personnel.

Montgomery said his plane was not de-iced fast enough during one attempt to take off. On another attempt, the crew’s shifts went over the legally allowed limit, forcing the flight’s cancellation.

Delta passengers weren’t the only ones who had a difficult day at the airport.

“I’ve been on an @united plane since 9:15 a.m. and it’s now 4:25 p.m.,” wrote Dan Britton on Twitter.

Another passenger wrote that his Southwest plane required 90 minutes to be de-iced. “But I’m not complaining one bit! That ice was thick and I’m safe. Thanks to the @SouthwestAir and KCI ground crew,” he wrote.

Holly Rowe, a sports telecaster for ESPN, was also stuck on a plane at KCI on Tuesday and tweeted about the experience with increasing frustration.

At first she wrote she couldn’t complain, as crews were working outside in the “crummy weather.”

But then she wrote that, as her Delta plane was on the runway set to takeoff, the pilot told passengers they’d “timed out” moments before flying.

“@delta this is very poor organization. 11 hours,” Rowe tweeted.

One day later, on Wednesday, she wrote, “29 hours later, leaving Kansas City.”

Montgomery said Tuesday was the “worst air travel day experience” in more than 20 years of flying.

But he thanked the flight attendants for their service and the pilots for encouraging passengers to seek compensation from Delta.

“The flight crews did their best, all things considered,” he said. “You don’t mess with Mother Nature.”

Max Londberg: 816-234-4378, @MaxLondberg