As the clock ticked closer and closer to midnight, dozens of holiday travelers were eager to depart the confined lobby of the Trenton-Mercer Airport. Visions of white, sandy beaches danced in their heads as they waited to board Flight 821 to West Palm Beach. Their southern oasis awaited...until they learned their flight was suddenly delayed from 5:15 p.m. to 8:15 p.m.
Suddenly, these unlucky passengers learned that getting stuck in the airport was not the ideal way to spend New Year's Eve.
Before the three-hour delay was complete, the flight was canceled, leaving over 100 passengers stranded on the last day of 2019.
The under-staffed airline agents rushed to bring assurance to the distressed passengers by revealing the reason behind the delay and last-minute cancellation: mechanical issues.
Men, women and children alike shared expressions of rage and despair. Businessmen began making rapid calls to their companies as mothers rushed to calm their already restless children.
With only three agents working at the airline counter and the majority of passengers vying for new tickets, the single-airline airport soon resembled a bloodbath.
To calm the frantic passengers, Frontier Airlines gave everyone a choice of two options: a $500 voucher toward a future Frontier flight or $400 toward a rental car.
“I jumped and ran down the steps to the Frontier Airline desk and was perplexed, as there were no agents to be seen,” Phillip Langer, a New Jersey inhabitant destined for the 821 flight, said. “Minutes later, a few stymied New Year’s Eve workers appeared and were entirely clueless on how to deal with 100-plus disgruntled end-of-the-year travelers.”
Langer argued with a Frontier agent to secure himself a flight to anywhere in Florida.
With plans to visit his son in West Palm Beach on the anniversary of his mother’s passing, the airline’s failure to provide reliable transportation was the last thing Langer felt he needed.
To the dismay of many, no flights to PBI were available via Frontier Airlines until at least Friday, Jan. 3.
“Not one person is interested in traveling in 2020,” Langer said in response to the situation. “The time and place are here and now.”
Hoping to use the $400 rental car voucher to make an impromptu road trip to Florida, Langer rounded up a few other annoyed passengers in an attempt to create a carpool group to make the 18-hour drive to West Palm Beach.
Langer found out the rental car would require a $500 drop off fee, making the $400 voucher nearly worthless.
Frustrated, Langer and his rag-tag group sought for any flight destined for Florida, even those departing from alternate airports.
Searching for any last-minute tickets to Tampa, Miami or Fort Lauderdale, four of the ground occupants (Langer included) secured an early morning flight on Jan. 1 to Fort Myers, approximately two and a half hours from West Palm Beach.
While Langer returned to his local residence for the evening, the remaining three of their party were left to sleep on the floor of the airport lounge since they didn’t have a mode of transportation or hotel reservations.
Irmine Charles and her ten-year-old daughter Elissa also tried to book a flight near their Boynton Beach home.
Charles, a native of Haiti, has lived in Boynton Beach for some time with her husband and daughter, and she works as a registered nurse at a local hospital. Much like that of her surrounding occupants, Charles was determined to make it home for her evening shift which was scheduled on the first day of the new year.
Initially gratified to know they’d at least have food to eat during their evening stay in the airport, Charles and her daughter had no idea the remaining airport employees planned to close-up shop early.
Identified as the “Sky Lounge,” the airport’s only in-house restaurant and bar, the employees openly turned away stranded passengers to leave their jobs early that evening.
When further prompted by passengers about any remaining cold items that didn’t require cooking, such as club sandwiches or salads, an irate waitress declared the establishment closed and sent away the hungry customers.
“They just wanted to get rid of us,” Charles said.
The airport dining establishment promises to extend their hours in the event of delays or cancellations, according to an advertisement stationed outside the Sky Lounge.
When Frontier Airline agents were questioned about the early closure of the dining establishment, they proceeded to inform guests they had no personal affiliation with the lounge restaurant and could not assist with the situation.
“Both the airport and Frontier handled the situation very poorly and disrespectfully,” Charles said. “They treated us like we were worthless.”
Given that most local restaurants were closed on New Year’s Eve, the remaining passengers of Flight 821 were left with only two vending machines at their disposal.
Able to convince a local pizza place to deliver (despite its altered holiday hours), Charles, her daughter, and the remaining passengers eventually got something in their stomachs several hours after their canceled flight.
With an additional email alert about a 30-minute delay to their Fort Myers flight, all the lingering passengers could do was spread themselves out on the airline floor and pray that 2020 would bring better travel experiences than 2019.
By Brenna Brown