Stranded Passengers Pile Up At NYC Area Airports

NEW YORK (CBS 2) — “Unscheduled maintenance” is a phrase that can strike fear into airline passengers.

United Airlines was forced to fix its entire fleet of 757 jets on Tuesday night. All the aircraft were grounded, at least temporarily, to take care of a system update, reports CBS 2’s Sean Hennessey.

The resulting cancellations left some passengers stuck at LaGuardia Airport.

Joseph Rodriguez and his friends were supposed to heading home to Montana, but instead they were heading to a Queens hotel after their flight was grounded.

“It makes for a really long day. We’ve been here four, five hours. Pretty frustrating,” Rodriguez said.

The frustration occurred late Tuesday when United grounded its Boeing 757s after discovering it hadn’t properly followed Federal Aviation Administration guidelines in checking modifications to air data computers, which feed air speed, air pressure and other indicators into the auto pilot and other cockpit functions.

In all, 96 planes had to be inspected immediately.

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“We’re out $400 on ski tickets,” stranded traveler Will McCloud told Hennessey.

McCloud’s flight to a ski trip was held up just 10 minutes before boarding.

“They instructed us that something was wrong with the airplane and that we’d be off shortly. An hour later they came back and said it’ll just be another hour. Meanwhile, every other flight that we possibly could have got on left,” McCloud said.

He ended up heading to a hotel and hoping to fly out on Wednesday morning.

The last grounding of a major airline for maintenance violations was in 2008 when American grounded almost 300 of its MD-80 fleet because of improper modifications to electrical wiring. Delays lasted days and affected more than 300,000 travelers.

Thousands more could be affected with United’s grounding.

“Frustrating, tiring,” stranded traveler Kayla Lembo said when asked about her emotions.

The unusual step by United raises questions about the effectiveness of its maintenance systems.

Still, while inconvenient, Rodriguez and company said they weren’t complaining.

“Better to be safe than sorry. I prefer them to ground a plane than something happen,” Rodriguez said.

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