Ever been abandoned on Christmas Eve by your carrier 280 miles from your destination?
Approaching Jackson Hole on our American Airlines flight from Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW), the news from the cockpit was worrying. “The runway’s icy and covered in snow. We’ll have to fly on to Salt Lake City”.
On our arrival there about 8 pm we had to contact a range of local hotels, where we were on the hook for paying for our accommodation, although at a discounted rate. “Get back to the airport by 5.30 am tomorrow and we’ll have you on an early return to Jackson Hole”, we were assured.
Lift off was just before 8 am for the 37 minutes flight. “What news do you have about conditions at Jackson Hole?” I asked a steward, as I boarded. Pretty obvious question I thought! “Don’t ask us,” she replied, “We’re the last ones to know!”
We were soon there above the airport, but no descent was announced. You’ve probably guessed why – the runway was iced up. “We’ll have to circle for a while,” was the captain’s less than reassuring message. Was he remembering the company’s faulty landing at Jackson Hole three years ago on 29 December 2010, when the reverse thrust lever and speedbrake levers – shown opposite in the official report of the accident – didn’t deploy correctly and the plane went off the end of the runway.
About 90 minutes of circling later and a lot of aviation fuel wasted, we were told: “It’s unsafe to land. We are returning to Salt Lake City. We cannot say more at present.”
On arrival came the announcement: “Stay in your seats. The captain will shortly tell you what is to happen.” One of America’s largest airlines would soon have its control centre staff handling the problem. Sure enough the captain emerged. “We are going to return to Dallas immediately. You can get out here in Salt Lake if you like, but your luggage will not be coming off the plane. Make your own decisions.”
The effect was electrifying. Men and women throughout the plane rose to their feet, arms raised, fists clenched all shouting with one voice “No!” The Passengers’ Revolt at Salt Lake City will go down in the memory of those 130 people for the rest of their lives! And the pain, inconvenience and camaraderie that followed.
The captain’s position was clear. He was under orders from people with “much larger pay checks than mine,” but after 15 minutes of conferring with his more highly paid colleagues he came back out with the update that bags would be unloaded at SLC, so those choosing to get off there could take them rather than have them returned to DFW.
All of us were to be dumped at Salt Lake City or offered a return to Dallas, where we had set off from 1200 miles away. Take it or leave it. Their contract to get us to Jackson Hole was to be torn up, though several other carriers were bringing planes into the resort over this period.
Groups gathered over the next two hours and fixed their plans, most going that day on a 280 miles road journey to Jackson Hole by car, taxi or bus at their own expense. See photo above of this slow route from the inside of one of the buses.
Why we asked couldn’t American Airlines have organised this for the entire group, using local bus companies, acknowledged their responsibility and paid the costs? Something is seriously wrong with the operations side of this company.
One thing was certain: most of the dumped passengers on the Airbus 319 Flight AA 2273 to Jackson Hole will be thinking twice before they book an American Airlines flight again. The photo below shows 22 of the dumped passengers on arrival finally at Jackson Hole after a 280 mile bus journey from Salt Lake City airport.