April 16, 2013 at 8:46 PM ET
Lisa Montanaro was flying from Sacramento, Calif., to New Orleans Tuesday afternoon when a brief layover at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport suddenly turned into a multi-hour ordeal.
As her American Airlines flight touched down, the pilot announced the carrier was in the midst of a nationwide computer problem and the plane would have to stay on the tarmac, with seven other jets ahead of them also waiting to park and with nowhere to go.
“There was a collective sigh -- like, oh man. People were cranky,” Montanaro told NBC News, adding that the Boston explosions immediately crossed her mind after the announcement.
“It seemed like a strange coincidence and when they said it’s nationwide, I looked at the people next to me and I said, 'I wonder if this is purposeful.'”
After an hour on the tarmac -- made somewhat more tolerable by the crew handing out water and granola bars, and the pilot keeping one engine on to maintain the air conditioning -- a mobile stair case finally drove up and allowed the passengers to deplane, said Montanaro, a productivity consultant who lives in Davis, Calif., and was on her way to a conference.
Welcome to a particularly nightmarish day for U.S. aviation, with thousands of fliers stuck after a computer problem forced American Airlines to ground all of its flights for a few hours on Tuesday. The system was back online in the afternoon, but not before airport terminals across the country filled up with passengers with nowhere to go. In the end, more than 700 American Airlines and American Eagle flights were canceled.
The carrier worked feverishly to get back to normal and promised to beef up its schedule on Wednesday to clear the backlog.
“Despite the magnitude of today's disruption, we are pleased to report that we expect our operation to run normally with only a small number of flight cancellations expected tomorrow,” American Airlines spokeswoman Mary Frances Fagan said in a statement.
The airline has found no evidence that the outage was related to the events in Boston, Fagan added.
Ryan Pickett found out about the ground stop at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas while having lunch and waiting for his American Airlines flight to Boston.
“I went to my gate to see if there was any more information, but they weren’t announcing anything, I just saw a big line,” said Pickett, restaurant manager who lives in Boston and was traveling on business.
“I went to speak with someone who was in line and they knew less than I did. It wasn’t for another 45 minutes that the ticket counter agents actually got on the PA and said something.”
There were huge lines at every gate, with travelers frantically trying to make alternate arrangements, he said.
Pickett was rebooked on a JetBlue flight to Boston, which required him to go down to baggage claim, pick up his bags and transfer to another terminal, he said.
“I don’t think American has done very well in communicating, at least in our terminal, what the process is, how to handle it and taking care of us,” Pickett said.
“They seem a little in shock. They seem like they’re not sure what to do,” Montanaro added.
She was rebooked on an evening American Airlines flight, which meant spending a total of six hours at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. Montanaro hopes she will make it to her conference, where she is scheduled to speak on Wednesday morning. Still, she’s counting her blessings.
“A few people have said, ‘You know what? This sucks, but compared to what happened yesterday in Boston, I need to put this in perspective,’ and I think that’s a good attitude,” Montanaro said.