First a story, then the reality.
I had a similar experience on a Delta flight from JFK
. To start off, there was bad weather all over the midwest, and the captain came on and told us the flight time was going to be 7 hours and 40 minutes. Normal flight time to SFO
is 5:30. The extra two hours was due to the fact that he was planning to fly around the weather over Canada and then down over northern Montana and sw into SFO
. Due to the extra flight time, they had boarded additional beverages and snacks, but the same meal service was planned for the flight.
We pushed back on time and we were pulled out for startup. We started up both engines and then we taxied out to the inner taxiway parallel to 31L and stopped. Not only did we stop, the captain shut down the engines, at which point he told us all departures to the west have been stopped indefinitely due to weather between Cleveland and Chicago. You can imagine the backup that caused. We sat in that position for one hour. During that time, nothing happened. We just sat. After an hour, the captain came on and told us that the weather had cleared for departures to the west, but we were continuing on our flight plan over Canada, due to the fact that the storms over the midwest were causing signficant turbulence all the way up to FL430. There was no way we could fly through it...so we had to go around it.
However, there was a new problem. There was only one runway available for departures, 4L. Due to the hour wait, a significant back up of aircraft had occured. We were 78th in line to take off. The captain estimated another two hours before we could get airborne. So we started one engine and began to taxi. We moved onto the parallel taxiway and stopped once again. After 10 minutes of waiting, the captain shut down again. We sat for about 30 minutes, again with nothing happening. After 1:30, the captain started up again and started moving, very slowly, we taxied for about 30 minutes. During the taxi, the f/a's passed headsets around and started a movie in the cabin, considering the fact that the captain said it would be up to two hours before we could depart, they decided to show a movie to keep people occupied and in their seats.
After another 30 minutes of taxiing, the captain pulled to the side and stopped and shut down a third time. Evidently, there were passengers who now needed to use the restrooms and the f/a's were getting quite a number of distress calls from the passengers. We parked for about 30 minutes while everyone who needed a restroom used one. Once everyone was seated, he started up again, and we started taxiing again. Now, we were on the parallel runway for 4L with about 20 aircraft in front of us, and we could see the end of the runway. We crossed 31L and taxied for another 30 minutes before we got to the hold point for 4L. En total, we were on the ground for 3:50 before we reached the hold point. Once we were there, we held for about five minutes, then taxied into position and took off right away and started heading north east toward Boston before we made the turn northwest headed toward Toronto.
During the entire 3 hours and 50 minutes we were on the ground, Delta served water only upon request. They did not make any effort what so ever to do a beverage service, or pass around any snacks. This would make an average passenger quite angry. However, I always pack a liter of water and 3-4 snack bars in my carry on just in case of emergencies, so I was set for a few hours if necessary and in this case, I needed them...so I was not bothered.
However, as an airline manager, I understood why Delta did not do a beverage service, nor feed people on the ground even during the long delay and taxi. Here's why:
1) Safety. The captain was trying to continue moving the airplane as best he could. He stopped the aircraft occassionally for two reasons: a) because it was clear he could not move and b) he knew that the passengers needed to move around, go to the bathroom, etc. So when he could, he stopped, shut down and let people move around for a period of time. During that time, if people went to the galley, they could get water (I know, because I went and they had water out back there).
2) Rationing. If they used up all their water before we departed, we would have had to return to the gate. One of the catering requirements is that the aircraft does not go airborne without an adequate bottled water supply for the length of the flight. They had boarded extra water because of the longer flight plan, but if they had given out water freely, they would have burned through that water supply and would have ended up short halfway through the flight. Passenger dehydration is a real problem at altitude and water must be given to the passengers to keep them hydrated at all times during the flight.
Other beverages cannot be served because carts cannot be used while on the ground (FAA rule). Beverages would have had to have been served by hand and to do that, they would have burned through their ice supply. Running out of ice half way to SFO
would have been a serious problem as well.
3) Food service: Why no snacks? The only snacks that could have been given out would have been the pretzel snacks which are bathed in salt brine. The salt increases thirst and would have created an even worse situation vis a vis water usage on the ground. So, no snacks. Plus, when you give people salty snacks and water, they also have to go to the bathroom. We had a full ship (205 passengers), which would have meant more people going to the bathroom which would have delayed us more on the ground, which would have eaten more into the fuel used for taxiing. As the captain had the good sense to use one engine for taxiing and then only used it when we had to move, we were able to conserve enough fuel to not burn into the reserve, which would have meant going back to the gate to be refueled.
So if you can imagine all those scenarios, you might begin to see why in a long delay why flight attendants might not serve drinks or feed you during a long delay. Ideally, they want you in your seats while engines are running. If the captain shuts the engines down, then you should be able to get up and stretch, but only if the seatbelt sign is off.
My advice to you is to carry a liter of water and 3-4 high protein snack bars in your carry on for cases like this. In this way, you have food and water to carry you for up to six to eight hours if you are stuck in an airplane. In my case, I was on that airplane for a grand total of 12:19 minutes (from the moment I got on to the moment I got off) All for what was suppose to be a 5:30 flight. The flight was to arrive at 9:30pm, I arrived at 2:30am...and yes, I was late to the office the next morning.
Some good advice from someone who has fought this battle more than once.
Although, I must admit, this experience was by far my worst. However, once we were airborne, Delta did a good job of taking good care of me, all the way to SFO
. Of course, I was in Business Class, so I got a decent meal and some sleep. The only bad thing was my back hurt really bad the next day, from sitting in a meeting all day, then sitting in an airplane all night. So much for the glamour of being a road warrior.
David L. Lamb, fmr Area Mgr Alitalia SFO 1998-2002, fmr Regional Analyst SFO-UAL 1992-1998