Passengers left on planes for hours at Reagan National after storms

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Thais Austin wanted to get home to the District after a weekend visit with family in Jacksonville, Fla. Instead, she said, she and other passengers were stuck on the Reagan National Airport taxiway for three hours Sunday night, unable to exit their plane.

“At first they said ‘Oh, it will be a minute,’ ” Austin said. “Then it was an hour and another hour. The time just kept ticking by.”

Hundreds of passengers on at least a half-dozen other flights reported similar delays after thunderstorms downed trees, flooded roads and left thousands without power in the Washington region. The meltdown raised questions about whether the industry is prepared for the summer travel season as it struggles with continued labor shortages and weather-related disruptions that have long been its biggest source of delays.

The Federal Aviation Administration temporarily halted flights Sunday evening at National, as well as at Washington Dulles International and Baltimore-Washington International Marshall airports, until conditions improved. But at hardest-hit National, the backlog apparently left the airport without enough gates to accommodate all of the arrivals.

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According to flight-tracking site FlightAware, more than one-quarter of flights scheduled to arrive Sunday at National were delayed, while an additional 14 percent were canceled. Among departures, nearly 30 percent were delayed while 19 percent were canceled.

National and Dulles saw gusts up to 59 mph as the storms rolled through.

Despite a surge in air travel demand, airlines have trimmed their schedules in recent months while hoping to avoid a repeat of last summer, when weather-related delays — compounded by staffing shortages — left tens of thousands of customers stranded. Airlines are trying to replace more than 50,000 workers who’ve left the industry since the start of the pandemic. Thousands of recent hires are still in training.

While airlines say they are focused on running reliable operations, some travelers, including those caught in Sunday night’s delays at National, said frequent disruptions are causing them to rethink air travel.

Eric Shierling’s patience already was running low by the time he made it to Washington. His original flight from Birmingham, Ala., slated to leave early Sunday, was canceled and the flight on which he was rebooked was delayed multiple times. He had hoped his long day was nearly over when he touched down at National at 12:24 a.m. Monday, only to have the captain announce another issue.

“The pilot told us there were no gates because everybody had gotten to the airport at the same time,” said Shierling, a project engineer.

When he looked out the window and saw two other planes parked to the right and two more on the left, his heart sank.

It would be four hours before passengers were allowed to leave the aircraft, then he still needed to catch another flight to get to Connecticut, where he was headed for business. The crew did its best, he said, providing snacks and water, even breaking into a stash of goodies reserved for first-class passengers.

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Passengers left on planes for hours at Reagan National after storms

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