SIOUX FALLS, S.D. -- Lisa and Steve Johnson thought their daughter’s plane to Sioux Falls would arrive about 20 minutes late.
But then they got a text from her saying she landed, so they parked at the Sioux Falls Regional Airport and waited.
They waited for more than an hour, during which time they traded a series of text messages with their 18-year-old daughter, who along with other passengers wound up stuck on a parked plane.
“I don’t understand,” Lisa said. “Why couldn’t they put them at another gate?”
The delay sparked a wave of complaints Sunday on Twitter as Delta fliers and their family members called the wait “ridiculous” and “unacceptable.”
TODAY IN THE SKY: Delta shows off new 'flagship' Airbus A350 in Atlanta (story continues below)
The airport’s top official said flights are handled by each individual airline, and it’s up to them to make sure flights stick to the schedule. Because of an extensive delay on another flight, Delta was handling two arrivals at nearly the same time, said Dan Letellier, the airport’s executive director.
The Delta flight in question – the one that took so long to get its passengers off the plane after it landed – was an arrival from the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.
Delta apologized for the delay in an emailed statement.
“Delta apologizes to customers on flight 2048 from Minneapolis who were delayed deplaning in Sioux Falls while Delta’s ground crews worked to board another flight at an adjacent gate," airline representatives said in a statement.
Delta’s Sioux Falls crew prioritized an arrival from Atlanta because they needed to get people off and re-board with passengers who had been waiting all day for that aircraft. Passengers on the Sioux Falls-to-Atlanta flight were supposed to depart at 6 a.m. They didn’t take off until 10:25 p.m.
TODAY IN THE SKY: Delta and the Boeing 747: A brief history (story continues below)
Meanwhile, the Johnsons’ teenage daughter, Jael, was stuck on the Minneapolis flight. She grew increasingly upset as the temperature inside the fuselage started to rise.
“She was just more irritated and uncomfortable,” said Lisa, her mother. “We told her, 'we're here, we can see the plane.'”
The Indianapolis-based couple is in Sioux Falls this week to watch their son Jacob compete in the NAIA Division II basketball tournament. Their daughter flew in later because she had a volleyball tournament.
It was her first time flying alone, Lisa said.
Delays happen when planes are deplaning, but it’s usually a matter of 5 or 10 minutes, Letellier said.
Passengers on Delta Flight 2048 were scheduled to arrive at 9:18 local time. The Johnsons say the plane landed about five minutes later than expected, but by the time Jael finally got out, Letellier said.it was more than an hour later. Delta’s website says the plane reached the gate at 10:33 p.m.
“I don’t know the exact timing of it, but obviously it was a lot longer than normal, Letellier said.
Meanwhile, passengers issued a series of frustrated Tweets as they waited. Some criticized the airline for not having enough staff on hand to handle both arrivals. Others asked both airline and airport questions about the reason for the delay.
Sioux Falls’ low unemployment rate has caused workforce shortages across a wide range of different industries. It’s possible the airline’s local ground crew was understaffed for handling two arrivals at the same time, Letellier said.
Either way, the experience left the Johnsons disappointed.
“They should have a couple of maintenance people there that could handle unloading a plane,” Steve Johnson said. “What if there’s an emergency?”
Patrick Anderson is a reporter at the Argus Leader of Sioux Falls, S.D., a newspaper that's part of the USA TODAY Network. Aviation stories from the USA TODAY Network occasionally are featured here in Ben Mutzabaugh's Today in the Sky blog. You can follow Patrick on Twitter at @ArgusPAnderson.
TODAY IN THE SKY: Delta Air Lines sends its last Boeing 747 to Arizona 'boneyard'