Can this trip be saved? Stranded 12 hours on the tarmac after earthquake

Not all of the survivor stories coming out of Japan in the wake of the tragic earthquake involve tsunamis or exploding nuclear reactors.

Jiyong Kim, who was on his way from New York to Seoul via Tokyo on Delta Air Lines, endured a ridiculously long tarmac delay. He wants to know if he’s entitled to anything for having to spend an extra 12 hours sitting on the ground in Hokkaido.

I’ll get to Kim’s story in a moment. But first, let’s talk rules. The Transportation Department’s tarmac delay regulation wouldn’t apply to a US carrier operating in Japan. Also, under Delta’s contract of carriage — the legal agreement between Kim and the airline — an earthquake would be considered a force majeure event, which means technically, the company isn’t responsible.

Kim was on his way to Korea to visit his father, who has stage four lung cancer. He was scheduled for a stopover in Tokyo before continuing to Seoul, but because of the earthquake, Kim’s flight was diverted to Hokkaido.

Delta doesn’t fly to Hokkaido.

The airport ignored Delta. We were sitting inside a locked airplane for 12 hours. Our last meal was served about 2:30 p.m. and we were locked, sitting in a jetway, until next day 5 in the morning.

We saw our airline carriers move in and out, having their passengers go in, when we did not even have Delta employee to open the gate for us.

Even if you were not a claustrophobic, after being locked in a airplane for more than 24 hours, especially in an helpless disaster enviornment, you would be panicking. Not to mention safety issues.

Although the delay was the worst of the ordeal, Kim’s situation didn’t immediately improve. Once they were allowed to deplane, they were stuck again. No stores were open, so they couldn’t buy food. They were offered no updates on new flights.

Our family and friends called Delta back at home, and most of could not get through and even when they did get through, the answer from the customer service was simply, “We have no answer at this point.”

Can you imagine your family and friends worrying about you, stuck in a foreign country with an 8.9 earthquake disaster?

There’s more. Kim’s luggage was lost. He was sent to a hotel halfway on the other side of the island, got his wires crossed with Delta and missed his next flight. When he had the audacity to complain, he got a lecture from a Delta representative, reminding him that they were doing their best to set things right after a major disaster.

Kim believes Delta should compensate him by offering a new ticket to Korea — this time in first class.

“I really believe I deserve this,” he says. “Nothing less.”

I can’t imagine being trapped on a plane almost 24 hours. I’m sure Delta did everything it could to get those passengers off the plane as quickly as possible after the earthquake, and was equally frustrated with the delay.

A look at the rules suggests Kim isn’t entitled to any compensation for his diversion. Delta got him to his final destination, earthquake and all, and even sprung for a hotel room when it didn’t have to.

At the same time, Kim and the other passengers on the Tokyo flight endured an unconscionable delay, and they do indeed deserve something for their trouble. Don’t they?

Survey says: No, they don’t.

(Photo: Hyou gushi/Flickr Creative Commons)

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at . Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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