Hundreds of passengers found themselves in the middle of a nightmare at Chicago's Midway International Airport when 16 planes were stuck on the tarmac for more than three hours.
Dan Landson, a spokesman for Southwest Airlines, said the backup began late Thursday night and resulted from delays that began earlier in the day. He said arriving planes were stuck with no where to go because all of the airline's Midway gates were occupied by other aircraft.
"We arrived at 10 p.m. and its [sic] getting cold on the plane," one passenger, Efraid Mata, wrote in an email to NBC Chicago.
Some passengers were kept on their planes for up to four hours, they said. Once inside, they found the airline's kiosks inoperable and additional delays at the baggage claims. Many sought to get some sleep on the airport floors.
"Somebody needs to be held accountable," said a clearly-frustrated Sandy Geagan.
Landson said there were no other issues in other cities and that crews were working as quickly as possible to correct all of the issues.
Southwest and AirTran Airways, which are in the midst of a merger, suspended their operations at Midway for several hours on Friday. Passengers were advised to check the airline's website at southwest.com for the most up-to-date flight information.
A normal schedule was expected Saturday, company officials said.
The U.S. Department of Transportation in December 2009 instituted new rules prohibiting airlines from keeping passengers on an airport tarmac for more than three hours.
DOT officials said they were investigating this latest Southwest Airlines incident. The airline could face fines of up to $27,500 per passenger.
United Airlines last October was ordered to pay $1.1 million for delays that took place at O'Hare in July 2012. In that incident, thunderstorms delayed more than 13 flights, many of them for more than three hours.
The Chicago area was battered by nearly continuous snowfall for three days. Snow began falling on New Year's Eve and continued through New Year's Day. The weather system, once it shifted, then brought lake effect snow for most of the day Thursday to those areas nearest Lake Michigan.
Some areas of the metropolitan area on Friday were digging out from nearly two feet of snow.
Still, Midway seemed to spared from much of the winter weather blast. Very few cancellations were reported due to the weather at Chicago's southern airport. It was a far different story to the north, at O'Hare International Airport, where nearly 700 flights were canceled throughout the three days due to the weather.
Note: This report was originally published on Friday, Jan. 3, 2014.