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Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg has announced an investigation into an incident involving a Delta flight at the Las Vegas airport that left passengers on the tarmac for four hours in extreme heat.
Secretary Buttigieg called the situation both “infuriating” and “shocking,” adding that airlines should ensure passenger comfort and prevent prolonged tarmac delays, particularly in extreme temperatures.
On July 18th, Delta Flight 555 from Las Vegas to Atlanta pushed back late, and ground traffic control instructed directed the plane to a parking area to await a takeoff slot.
The aircraft sat in the parking lot without air conditioning for nearly four hours while temperatures outside were 111 degrees. Inside the plane, temperatures reached dangerously high temperatures, though it’s unclear exactly how hot it got.
As the cabin temperature rose, passengers were presented with the choice to exit the aircraft but were warned that finding another flight to Atlanta could take several days. Despite the rising temperatures inside the plane, many passengers opted to remain on board.
According to passenger reports, the situation inside the aircraft became critical as flight attendants were seen rushing with oxygen tanks, responding to passengers passing out. As babies screamed and the cabin descended into further chaos, at least five passengers and a flight attendant required medical attention, two of whom were hospitalized. After four hours, everyone was finally asked to disembark. The flight was initially rescheduled for the following morning but was subsequently canceled again.
Passenger reports are wild
Krista Garvin, a producer for Fox News who was on the flight, detailed her experience on Twitter and posted a video that shows the aircraft’s captain making an announcement apologizing to those aboard for the extreme heat.
Another passenger said on Instagram that she had run out of food and diapers for her baby.
Other passengers shared their experiences as well, the most shocking of which is that Delta had not provided them with any water and that the bathrooms were locked throughout the ordeal.
According to Delta, from initial departure to eventual cancellation lasted just over three hours and it had made at least one gate return due to weight and balance problems caused by the heat. This conflicts with passenger reports that the plane was sitting on the runway for closer to four hours.
Delta said that it was “looking into the circumstances that led to uncomfortable temperatures inside the cabin.” It’s great that they’re investigating, but “uncomfortable” seems like a bit of an understatement here…”
Finally, Delta apologized to passengers and offered them unspecified “compensatory gestures.” On a separate note, I’d like to congratulate the genius in Delta’s communications department who came up with that phrase, perhaps the vaguest piece of corporate airline jargon I’ve ever heard.
Department of Transportation investigation
Transportation Secretary has now announced an official investigation into the incident, emphasizing the necessity of enforcing rules about maximum cabin temperatures and tarmac delay durations.
“I want to know how it was possible for passengers to be left in triple-digit heat onboard an aircraft for that long,” Buttigieg told Reuters on Thursday. He added that “even under normal temperatures a tarmac delay is not supposed to go that long.”
Who’s to blame?
Though we still don’t have all the facts, it sure seems like this one is on the captain. Admittedly, once pushback happens, planes are at the mercy of ground traffic control. But pilots always have the option to declare an emergency, and it seems like that should have been done a lot earlier than it was.
What was the logic behind the decision not to disembark earlier? Surely after the first or second passenger needed medical attention, the decision should have been to declare an emergency and return to the gate. The fact that it took five passengers and a crew member falling ill to take meaningful action is perplexing.
I was on a flight out of Phoenix last summer that waited on the tarmac for around half an hour without auxiliary power, and the moment the crew realized that temperatures were becoming unsafe onboard we were deplaned in a matter of minutes. That’s how it should be done.
Passengers on Delta Flight 555 were left sitting on the tarmac in extreme heat for nearly four hours and a Department of Transportation investigation is now underway. The whole situation is unfortunate, and unconfirmed passenger reports that water wasn’t offered and that bathrooms were locked throughout the ordeal are shocking.
Though it’s too early to say for sure, I just can’t see anyone other than Delta employees being at fault here—either the captain, who waited entirely too long to declare an emergency and return to the gate, or the cabin crew, who didn’t provide necessities to passengers during the long wait and didn’t adequately communicate the dire cabin situation to the pilots. Whatever the case, I’m looking forward to getting more clarity on what exactly went down here.