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Stuck On An Airplane, On The Ground, For Hours

Updated on October 11, 2017
Air travel
Air travel | Source

Like Prisoners On The Tarmac

That's how it felt anyway, and we were stuck for only a few hours. Imagine being detained on an airplane for five or ten hours with no food and without a working bathroom or air conditioning. It's happened many times before, and it happened again in August, 2009.

In fact, my husband and I had a very similar experience en route to the same airport just the week before. I'll tell you about it here, along with what happened to passengers stranded -- held captive, more like -- on the tarmac in Minneapolis overnight.

It may be years later now, but people are still getting stuck on planes just sitting on the ground.

Have you been stuck on a plane on the tarmac? - A quick visitor poll

Has this happened to you?

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Our Experience on Northwest Airlines

Waiting on the tarmac

Just a week before this incident, when my husband and I were traveling to Minnesota on a non-stop Northwest Airlines flight (now part of Delta), our plane was diverted to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, due to stormy weather in the Minneapolis area. At first, we circled the airport, waiting for the worst of the storm to pass, but less than ten minutes later we were told we were low on fuel and needed to divert.

We then sat on the tarmac in Sioux Falls for a few hours, while every half hour or so we were told we'd be back in the air "soon." Part of our delay was apparently about paperwork and some light bulbs and a bathroom sink that weren't working in the cabin. Then the flight crew was about to leave because their shifts were up, which would mean we'd be stuck there overnight.

A hush-hush conversation eventually took place between the Captain and the crew at the back of the cabin, while passengers all looked on, hoping. If the stewardesses decided to leave, we wouldn't be able to legally take off without them, even for the short flight back to Minneapolis. Thankfully, the pilot talked them into staying on so we could get to our destination. There was a cabin-wide sigh of relief.

Then we waited for more paperwork to be completed before we actually did take off again. When we finally landed in Minneapolis, we then sat on the tarmac again, just a few feet from the ramp this time, because they couldn't find someone to guide us in.

My husband and I just barely made it to the rental car counter before they closed at 1am, after running across one of the largest airports in the country. If we'd missed them, we would have had to stay in the airport until they reopened at 6am.

So I guess, compared to what the people on the flight a week later went through, we should consider ourselves lucky. Still, it was a very unpleasant, stressful, and frustrating situation.

If You Have Been Stuck On An Airplane On The Tarmac... - Tell us about it.

What airline was it? When did this happen? And how long were you stranded? What was the experience like and how did the crew handle it?

There's more information below, so keep scrolling down. There's also a general comment area.

Video Made By A Passenger WHILE Stranded On A Tarmac For Hours

A Passenger Bill Of Rights

For Airline Travelers

PART 1: Why We Need An Airline Passenger Bill of Rights

PART 2: Draft Airline Passenger Bill of Rights

PART 3: You Can Help Pass Our Airline Passenger Bill of Rights

PART 4: Petition For An Airline Passenger Bill of Rights

Read them all on

You can sign the electronic version.

A Passenger Bill Of Rights - Coalition for an Airline Passengers Bill of Rights video update with clips from Dr. Phil, featuring Ralph Nader and Kate Hanni.

Article: Trapped On The Tarmac?

It Can Still Happen from

And in related news....

There's now a Cruise Passenger Bill of Rights

© 2009 Deb Kingsbury

You Can't Leave This Page Until You Post A Comment - Just kidding. But comments are welcome.

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    • TerriCarr profile image


      6 years ago

      I've never had any truly nightmare-ish flying experiences like this. I did miss a connecting flight in Delhi once and it seemed I would have to wait overnight in the transit area where you can't access the shops, buy foods, etc. Luckily, they squeezed me in on another flight. I think I waited about 8 or 10 hours. But there was no claustrophobia or stinky bathrooms.

    • QuizSquid profile image


      7 years ago

      We landed in Dallas a couple of years ago, maybe about 30 minutes late. I had a short time to catch another flight, but it shouldn't have been a problem. Then the captain announced that they didn't have a gate available for us, so we were going to have to sit. It was the better part of an hour before they got us off the plane, and I ran to my gate, just in time to see my flight back away.

      I wasn't happy. It was the same airline, so they knew I was there and they had caused the delay. They should have held the flight for five more minutes.

    • mariacarbonara profile image


      8 years ago

      Its the pits! You would think they would have a special area where they can take passengers off by bus and let people relax although with the state of some airports your probably more comfortable on the plane!

    • MayaIxchel profile image


      9 years ago

      great lens, sorry to hear about your trouble. hopefully it won't happen again!

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      i was stranded quite a number of times, mostly for my flights out of and within China. i'm just glad the flight still happened! cheers

    • profile image

      lasertek lm 

      10 years ago

      I really hope this doesn't happen to us. It would really get into my nerves.

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      Wow.. I haven't been in that kind of situation..

      But I'm wondering how..LoL..:p

    • hayleylou lm profile image

      hayleylou lm 

      11 years ago

      Luckily this has never happened to us - the journey we make is already 24 hours long from Oz to UK so this would just be a nightmare for us. Great lens, 5 stars

    • amy1980 profile image


      11 years ago

      There are all kinds of reasons that you can get stuck in an airplane. My husband (captain at a commercial airline) spends quite a bit of time in planes on the ground.

      Most often it is because of weather. They are often looking for "holes" in the weather so they can fly safely. If they think there is going to be a hole in the weather, they will keep you on board, because if they deplane and then have to get you back on the plane you may miss your chance and not get there are all. Or they might end up delayed by the FAA once they get out on the tarmac because of spacing traffic at the airport of your destination.

      Your pilots do care about you, and sometimes even risk their jobs to take care of their passengers - all while making the crap wages you have read about in the news lately. They weigh comfort with safety, and that you really want to get to your destination or else you wouldn't have bought your ticket.

    • greenerme profile image


      11 years ago

      I can't imagine waiting that long! The longest I got stuck on a plane on the tarmac was about 2 hours and that felt like forever!

    • Laniann profile image


      11 years ago

      That's awful! I don't understand why they can't get the people off the plane.

      Congratulations on your award. 5*s

    • ajgodinho profile image

      Anthony Godinho 

      11 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Fortunately for me, I've never been in such a situation for a whole lot of hours, though I've been in situations where there were delays not over an hour. For me, I've experienced "waiting" situations a lot in life and I take it as it comes, but I've learned to be prepared with something alernative to do in case I'm stuck in a "waiting" situation.

      I think in situations like these where people have to wait for hours on end, they should receive some sort of compensation or they should be better equipped to deal with these kind of situation more effectively.

      Great job with this lens and congratulations on your award!

    • profile image


      11 years ago

      Yes, we definitely need a passenger bill of rights. This is just bad business! Great lens recounting your experience.

    • Mihaela Vrban profile image

      Mihaela Vrban 

      11 years ago from Croatia

      I hate waiting all together. At post office, bank, doctor's office... simply hate it! :( Always have a feeling of wasting my time!


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