Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Aeroflot Digs Deep to Weather Storm

NEW YORK -- The Blizzard of '96, which dumped record snowfall on the New York area, produced some miraculous scenes. Skiers swished down Park Avenue, families strolled without fear in Times Square after dark -- and Aeroflot gave out money to stranded passengers.


When two feet of snow brought flights at John F. Kennedy Airport to a standstill Sunday, Aeroflot appeared ready -- for a while -- to defy the third-worst winter storm since the city began keeping records.


While the other airlines that fly out of the Delta terminal at JFK had already cancelled all flights for the day, Aeroflot and Air Ukraine alone refused to bow to the elements. Aeroflot Flight 316 to Moscow remained stubbornly on the departure board listing at 3 p.m., joined only by Air Ukraine's flight to Kiev.


As a blanket of snow settled on the airport's runways, some 200 expectant passengers awaited one final word: cancellation. When the inbound flight from Moscow emerged from the blizzard and reached the gate at 2 p.m., however, the crowd was given pause.


"How the hell did they land in this mess," exclaimed one passenger. Could the flight crew, perhaps trained in Siberia, pull off one more miracle and get the plane off the ground? When the closure of the entire airport was announced over the intercom around 3 p.m., hope faded, but Aeroflot would not finally cancel for another hour, by which time even the taxis had long departed for the city.


By the end of the day, drifts at JFK mounted to 7 meters in some places, forcing the airport to remain closed Monday. By Tuesday morning the runways were clear and planes were flying, so Moscow-bound passengers returned to the airport, where they were greeted with a most unexpected surprise.


Aeroflot announced it would reimburse passengers for their expenses during the two-day delay. "I told that Aeroflot rep that he'd better compensate these people," a supervisor from Delta, which handles Aeroflot's ground operations, was heard to say Tuesday.


And sure enough, an Aeroflot higher-up in a brown leather jacket but no uniform turned up at the gate with bundles $100s and $50s, which he began dispensing from his coat pocket after a brief inspection of passengers' receipts. Most requests for compensation were honored, even for the $3 toll fees from the Triborough Bridge. A huge line formed, and bickering followed.


"Yes I'm shouting, and I'll continue to shout," announced one woman, leaning over the counter and foisting receipts in the agent's face. As time passed and patience strained, a fistfight nearly broke out over a charge of cutting in line.


It was like Moscow had come to JFK.