A massive winter storm forced an Airbus A380, the world’s largest passenger jet, to divert to SWF, a small New York airport around 1 p.m. ET on Thursday after heavy winds and whiteout conditions closed runways at its intended destination: John F. Kennedy International Airport.
The 325 passengers aboard Singapore Airlines Flight 26 from Frankfurt, Germany, found themselves on a snowy runway for more than three hours at humble Stewart International, about 80 miles north of JFK.
Passengers were leaving the plane after 5 p.m. ET using outdoor stairs, according to Manoel Gerlach, a passenger aboard the plane who was traveling with his wife and toddler son.
The sight of the giant plane, whose 262-foot wingspan is more than double that of a Boeing 737, was unusual for the airport, which is dwarfed by JFK in terms of passenger traffic. In 2016, about 137,000 passengers boarded at Stewart. At JFK, some 29 million passengers boarded, according to the Department of Transportation.
The airport’s 11,800 foot runway can easily accommodate the large plane, and the airport even bills itself as an “efficient diversion airport” because the runway is so long. But the airport’s gates aren’t high enough to reach the plane’s doors. Stairs were brought to the aircraft and passengers exited the plane into the outdoors, Gerlach said.
Singapore Airlines was working to arrange ground transportation to New York for the passengers, a spokesman said.
The flight was one of dozens that were diverted as powerful winds and heavy snow closed runways at some of the busiest airports along the East Coast, including several international long-haul flights.
Plane-tracking site FlightAware said there were at least 96 diversions due to the storm. More than 3,600 flights were canceled, and airlines have canceled hundreds more on Friday.
Then the plane, which is used on some of the longest international routes, will fly a very short route: from Stewart to JFK, according The spokesman for Singapore Airlines said it wasn’t clear how long that would take, but business-jet operators estimate the flight time on a small jet at about 30 minutes. The plane is expected to then fly back to Frankfurt.
Stewart’s history stretches back to the 1930s when the U.S. Military Academy at West Point built an airfield there to train cadets. It became Stewart Air Force Base in 1948 and what is now the Stewart Air National Guard Base is next to the commercial airport.
In January 1981, 52 Americans who had been held hostage in Iran returned back to the U.S., landing at Stewart aboard an Air Force VC-137, a variation of a Boeing 707 jet.
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has operated the airport for just over a decade, and is trying to attract more airlines to Stewart.