Thu April 25, 2013
This is What Happens When FAA Furloughs Strand Lebowski Fest in New York City
The Louisville-based team behind the traveling Big Lebowski celebration were among the many unsuspecting victims of the Federal Aviation Administration's air-traffic control furloughs because of the automatic federal budget cuts that went into effect earlier this year.
The FAA had 1,200 flight delays that Monday. There are a lot of stories of frustrated travelers. This is one of them.
Will Russell, a Lebowski Fest co-founder, and three others traveled to New York City this past weekend to stage a Lebowski Fest. The issue arose on Monday, when they tried to come back to Louisville.
Their flight was supposed to leave 4 p.m.
"They kept pushing it back and pushing it back," Russell said.
The Lebowski team's airline, Delta, made quite clear through the ordeal that the reason for the delay was the FAA's furloughs—it was repeatedly announced.
The delays came about hourly.
Eventually, at about 7 p.m., their flight was canceled—and the four were stranded in New York overnight. Russell said the airline refused to give them vouchers for a hotel room, as customarily happens when airlines have passengers stranded.
Arguments ensued, but the airline staff put the responsibility on the FAA, Russell said.
"They just kept saying, 'Well, it's not our fault," Russell said. "Well, it's not my fault, either."
But there are rules, apparently. The Lebowski did manage to score $6 food vouchers, Russell said.
Russell was unhappy about having to pay for a hotel, so he found through a website a "dirty little place in Jamaica, Queens, in the middle of nowhere." And that's where the four spent the (unexpected) last night of an otherwise successful trip.
The Lebowski Four left New York on Tuesday and, after a layover in Atlanta, returned safely to Louisville.
Russell said he's hopeful that the FAA—and Congress—deals with the situation before the next out-of-town Lebowski Fest later this year. (The next is July 19 and 20, in Louisville.)
"I had heard about the sequester, but I didn't realize that it was going to be limiting FAA and causing a furlough and thereby delaying and canceling a bunch of flights," Russell said.
"It's just all politics," he added.
The FAA's struggle with the sequestration has continued through this week. On Thursday, 863 flights were delayed because of the furloughs.
In a statement, Delta said: "Sorry to hear about the frustration. Airlines aren’t required to pay for hotel stays for cancelations that aren’t in the airline’s control. This is per DOT regulations. If we had to cancel a flight for aircraft maintenance reasons or a sick crewmember, we then, of course, would pay for hotel stays.
"We invite the customers to address us directly if they have more feedback."