Father's Day Turns Sour For Some Airline Passengers

ONTARIO, Calif. (AP) - John Ehrlich says he's heard quite a few excuses from airlines about flight delays. But the one given to him on Sunday that prevented him from spending his Father's Day at a New York Mets game with his three sons was a first.

Scheduled to leave for New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport on a Jet Blue red-eye flight, Ehrlich and more than 100 other passengers were told their departure would be pushed back until the flight attendants, delayed by an East Coast thunderstorm, received their mandatory nine-hour break.

Ehrlich said the airline initially promised a several-hour delay, but it eventually turned into an overnight stay at the Ontario International Airport as grouchy passengers huddled up in chairs and slept on the floor waiting for a back-up crew to arrive.

"It's unbelievable to me how they could send a plane out and the plane is gassed up and ready to go and they can't send it out because the flight crew must take a mandatory break," said Ehrlich, 55, of Westchester, N.Y. "If that was the case they should have sent along two or three extra crew members."

Bryan Baldwin, a spokesman for Jet Blue, said thunderstorms on
the East Coast delayed the jet from arriving at Ontario for six hours. The plane, with a new flight attendant crew scrambled from nearby, took off for New York at 10 a.m. Sunday.

The attendants who work the flight from New York to Ontario normally accompany the plane back, Baldwin said. After it was delayed, federal regulations wouldn't allow putting them back on board sooner.

"Flight attendants usually do the turnaround," he said. "We have pilots ready to go, but we normally don't have a flight attendant crew. We try to plan ahead as much as we can."

Airline passengers can expect a rough summer as carriers pass along higher fares and service charges because of record fuel prices. Data released last month by the U.S. Transportation Department showed nearly 30 percent of domestic flights were late or canceled in March.

Flight attendants whose shifts are 14 hours or less are entitled to a rest period of at least nine consecutive hours, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. The break can be reduced to eight consecutive hours if the flight attendant is provided a subsequent rest period of at least 10 consecutive hours, the FAA said.

Ehrlich, an advertising salesman, was frustrated that he wouldn't be able to go to the Mets game with his sons.

"Now, 132 people don't have Father's Day with their families," he said.

Some passengers took the delay in stride. Bill Schlote of Sierra Madre, Calif., and his adult son were traveling to New York to see the Yankees play the San Diego Padres on Tuesday. Schlote, 65, said
he will likely miss a party on Long Island to celebrate his friends' wedding anniversary.

"I'm too old to worry about this stuff any more," said Schlote, who added he's not a frequent flier.

"But if I had to put up with this all the time, I'd be upset," he said.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

AP-NY-06-15-08 1516EDT

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