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Passengers report being stranded on DCA tarmac for hours due to Sunday's weather

Airport police said canceled flights from a ground stop related to Sunday's severe weather clogged up gates on the ground.

WASHINGTON — Severe weather in the D.C. region caused downed trees, power outages and other issues Sunday night. It also led to some airline passengers being stranded on the tarmac at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA) for hours overnight.

WUSA9 spoke with two passengers on American Airlines flight 5197 from Cleveland to DCA. According to air traffic tracking website Flight Aware, that flight was scheduled to leave after 5 p.m. on Sunday, but did not leave until after 10 p.m.

"I’m tired, hungry, And I'm just really annoyed,” passenger Mary Elkordy said.

The flight landed at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport at 11:50 p.m., Flight Aware data shows, but passengers did not get off the plane until around 3:15 a.m. on Monday. Passengers on other flights reported similar issues.

“Most people were fairly patient for the first hour and a half, because we already liked, sat on the tarmac in Cleveland for a couple hours," Elkordy said. "What's another couple hours?"

Several passengers took to social media to express their frustration. Other passengers called airport police.

DCA Police confirmed with WUSA9 that they received multiple calls for service from people stuck on planes on the tarmac.

“There was a person who needed their medication," Elkordy said. "Bathrooms stopped working around hour two and then chargers stopped working."

After finally getting off the tarmac, some passengers said they had problems getting to their luggage.

“We got off the plane and we were all in this big line to rebook and then we were told to come down here and get our luggage and that’s when all of this nightmare started. So we came down here and they told us that they were not taking any more baggage claims for today and that we would not be getting our luggage," one passenger said.

Passengers were finally able to recover their luggage around 6 a.m. Monday morning.

American Airlines sent WUSA9 this statement on the delays:

"Last night's strong thunderstorms in the Washington, DC area impacted our operations at DCA. A small number of arriving flights experienced deplaning delays as they waited for available gates at the terminal. We apologize to our customers for the inconvenience and thank our team members who are working diligently to resolve the situation."

Police said the cause of the wait was due to a ground stop order put into place during Sunday's storms. Ground stops require aircraft to remain on the ground at their origination airport. 

According to the National Business Aviation Association, a ground stop is implemented when air traffic control is unable to safely accommodate additional aircraft in the system. They are commonly used in cases of severe weather. 

DCA Police told WUSA9 that canceled flights from Sunday's ground stop order led to a gate shortage at the airport, leading to delays on the tarmac.

The U.S. Department of Transportation has some safeguards in place for tarmac delays:

  • For flights landing at U.S. airports, airlines are required to provide passengers with an opportunity to safely get off of the airplane before 3 hours for domestic flights and 4 hours for international flights.
  • Exceptions to the time limits are allowed only for safety, security, or air traffic control-related reasons. 
  • During a tarmac delay, airlines must provide you with a snack, such as a granola bar, and drinking water no later than two hours after the start of the tarmac delay.

WUSA9 has reached out to the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority for a statement on the issues overnight, but have yet to hear back.

This is a developing story. We are working to confirm additional details. Stay with WUSA9 for the latest updates as they come in to our newsroom.

RELATED: Monday forecast: mostly rain free, cooler too

RELATED: Downed trees damage cars and close streets in DC

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