De-icing Crew's Efforts Thwarted By Winter Storm
Last week's winter storm that blanketed much of the nation's
midsection with a covering of ice left an indelible impact on 84
travelers in Columbus, OH, their flight to Orlando delayed for
hours by persistent freezing rain that was accumulating faster than
de-icing crews could keep up with.
After boarding Air Tran Flight 373 just before 7:30 am last
Wednesday, passengers waited until 11:29am for ground crews to dig
the Boeing 717 out of the snow and ice and push it back from the
gate to the de-icing pad. But freezing rain had already built up a
thick coating of ice on the plane.
AirTran Airways spokesman Tad Hutcheson described the airplane
as an aeronautical "popsicle," with new ice accumulating as fast as
the de-icing crew could clear it off. "The airport was just a mess,
an absolute mess," he said.
The Orlando Sentinel reports passengers were allowed to de-plane
to buy lunch, and then re-boarded as efforts resumed for the
afternoon. De-icing attempts continued until 4:38pm, at which time
the Captain conceded defeat at the hands of Mother Nature and
returned Flight 373 to the gate.
A replacement airliner was flown into Columbus from Atlanta,
which finally departed for Orlando with 84 weary passengers at
5:46pm and touched down at their long-awaited destination at 8:00pm
- nine-and-a-half hours late.
Hutcheson's tone was contrite as he confessed that if the
airline realized the futility of the de-icing efforts earlier on,
the flight would have been cancelled. AirTran sent a letter of
apology to the passengers Wednesday night, offering compensation of
free round-trip tickets, he said.
"Before switching planes, it got a little hostile," passenger
Julie Ralston said. "People were getting loud: 'We're hot; we're
hungry; why are other people taking off?' "
Ralston's luggage got left behind in Columbus. "I'm at my
parents' [house] with no clothes," she said. "It's been an