‘Lord of the Flies’ snowstorm disaster at JFK, courtesy of Virgin Atlantic

This is a new one. I’m blogging from the floor of Terminal 4 at JFK. The short version: Despite the fact that a ferocious snowstorm was approaching full gale, Virgin Atlantic refused to cancel my flight to London. Unable to change my travel without incurring a $250-plus fee, I was forced to go to the airport even as the snow poured down. You can predict what Virgin, unaccountable, could not: We ended up stranded on the tarmac — we were on the plane for 4 and a half hours. And by the time they got us back to the gate, every path out of JFK had shut down. No cars, no rail.

I’ve been here for 22 hours. So I did what any travel writer/consumer reporter would do. I started tweeting about it. Never nasty. Just how it was — which was nasty enough.

virgin atlantic snow

The flight that shouldn't have left, before it did

And the blizzard made that little snowball into an avalanche. Word spread. Virgin’s ineptitude and recklessness compounded with a larger story of thousands of people stranded here. And then then food started running out. By this morning, despite having had only an hour’s sleep (beside a pleasantly monotonously whirring baggage belt), I had talked to GMA, WNBC, CNN, CNN International, the Associated Press, and just now, CBS and the CBC. Each one called me just as soon as the one before had posted their coverage. Another snowball effect.

Only now am I seeing my first taxis outside the window, except I can’t take any of them now; we’re supposed to try again at 7:30pm, or about 28 hours since I got here.

I’m fine. Don’t worry ’bout me! Worry about Virgin Atlantic, which apparently failed to learn anything from the standstill at Heathrow last week. When I called it on Saturday begging to be allowed to rebook myself to get out of the way of the blizzard, it told me I’d have to pay up. Now I’m living in an airport, and I’ll never get the stench of KFC out of my clothes.

Last night, I asked Josie, a Virgin Atlantic worker, for a blanket from a bag her colleague was holding, and she refused to give me one. She said some passengers hadn’t gotten one. I said I was one of them. She still refused. I have a feeling they were going to “Upper Class” passengers. I rode out the subfreezing night, which kept racing through the terminal’s regularly opening doors, by layering. It was inexcusable.

For its greed before the storm, irresponsibility during it, and intractable silence afterward, 250 of us are paying the price. But this snowball of attention is making this transit Purgatory more tolerable. It’s a lot easier to get through an uncontrollable, ineptly managed situation if you feel you have a voice — whether that’s on GMA, CNN, or written as you sit on freezing cold butt cheeks on the stone floor of the Terminal 4 arrivals hall.

It’s not all right when you contract for a service and you’re treated with disrespect, and it’s not all right when companies fail to properly prepare for obvious obstacles and then demand that you shoulder the punishment.

My tweets are ongoing, so follow me here.

If you’re looking for my video of the angry mob at the McDonald’s in JFK, click here.

jason cochran gma

I guess this was me on GMA

Living at JFK

Food ran out in the middle of the night, and we've a long way to go

It totally isn't

It totally is

10 Responses to “‘Lord of the Flies’ snowstorm disaster at JFK, courtesy of Virgin Atlantic”

  1. Andy Hayes

    As I tweeted last night, let us know what we can do to help. 🙁 Not sure what else to say, other than that sucks. What goes around seems to come around, Virgin…

  2. Erin D

    I cannot believe you are still there! I already followed you on FB so I watched this unfold yesterday and it’s now a new day for me (Asia time zone) and you are still there! I am beyond words. What is interesting is I doubt many of us would even know this was going on without your posts and tweets.

    The fact they would not provide a blanket to you is definitely extreme. Without access to all your baggage (I assume) the ability to layer only goes so far if your clothes were on the plane. Interesting they managed to get the crew to a hotel, but you are all still stuck there. I appreciate the crew being rested if you are still forced to get on the plane, but certainly seems as though VA could’ve at least tried to do something for you.

    It is shocking to see this even happened in the first place, given how flexible other carriers have been recently about change fees and rebookings with severe weather lately. I’ve written countless updates on international travel throughout the year where carriers like Delta were allowing people to change flights days in advance of expected storms. Living in typhoon land here in Asia, that is something we also contend with multiple times a year and if a carrier refused to be accommodating, they would certainly lose my business for life. What VA did is inexcusable. It was negligent — and a decision based on greed — which put a lot of people needlessly in harm’s way.

    I feel for you and the rest of the stranded passengers, and I hope the ordeal is nearly over. I also hope VA learns from this, but my guess is they won’t. The bad publicity from this episode will ultimately cost them more than the money they feared losing by waiving change fees. and/or canceling the flight.

  3. Dave Schuster


    My girlfriend and I were in the same exact situation last night in Terminal 1 with Air France. The airline wouldn’t cancel our flight to Paris, forced us to board, and of course the ground crew broke an electrical component on the wing during the de-icing process. After 7 hours of being stuck in the plane on the tarmac, we finally taxied back to the gate only to find out that the entire airport had shut down and we couldn’t receive our luggage.

    Same exact story – we were promised a bus to a hotel only to find out that these had only gone to the 1st class passengers, blankets only went to 1st class passengers, luggage never came as promised, food vouchers were basically worthless due to enormous lines and a lack of food at McDonald’s and Wok & Roll, etc. Luckily, I have an apartment in Manhattan and was able to find an airport shuttle service at 2:00 am to take us back there instead of sleeping on the crowded floor of a freezing cold Terminal 1 at JFK.

    To top it all off, AF has been evasive all day regarding our baggage and when/how we can get it back. They even programmed a recorded message into the baggage number we were all given that says all of their reps are busy and then promptly disconnnects you.

    I’m glad you are on your way out of JFK. I may have been able to make it back home, but my girlfriend and I still have no luggage. She has no clothes other than the lightweight outfit she wore onto the plane when we were not prepared to be outside until we reached the sunny high 40 degree weather of Florence (our final destination) and was forced to buy new clothes this afternoon to keep warm when we travel back to JFK tomorrow to hopefully pick up our luggage. To top it off, the contact numbers on JFK’s website don’t ever reach a person so we can’t find out when they are reopening, we can’t find updated information on transportation back to JFK, and all the shuttle services we called said they are not operating today. Just before finding your story of Google News, I read another of people being stuck for over 6 hours on the A train with no food, drink, bathroom, or heat. It’s sad that these are just some of the hundreds of stories out there about people who got stranded and displaced due to mismanagement. Please keep us updated on your flight. We were not so lucky and could not get a new flight until tomorrow or Thursday, thus having to cancel our vacation altogether.

    On the warpath,

  4. Charlotte

    Dave Schuster

    Did you get your bags back? We were on Jason’s flight but did the same as you and headed back into the city, without our luggage which was “iced” in the plane. We spoke to someone at Virgin who said he’d ensure our bags were taken off the plane and delivered back to us. Have heard nothing since and nobody seems to know where they are…. Hope you had more luck!

    • Jason Cochran

      I had more foresight than the airline. As soon as the snow began, eight hours before scheduled takeoff, I transferred everything to a carry-on, knowing there would be massive potential for things to go wrong otherwise.

  5. Harrison

    That’s crazy. Airlines full well knowing that the blizzard would be really bad, should have canceled ahead of time, to save passengers the headache and hassle of having to stay at airport for long periods of time.

    Clearly, nothing has changed in the many years of airport systems to handle extreme weather conditions.

    Hope you get some form of good reimbursement for the hassle you had to go through.