World’s busiest airport comes to near-standstill after power outage
Atlanta airport suffers extended power failure forcing the cancellation of more than 1,000 flights and stranding travellers
On one of the busiest weeks for travel in the year, Atlanta airport suffered extended power failure forcing the cancellation of more than 1,000 flights and stranding travellers
Power has been fully restored at the world’s busiest airport after more than 1,000 flights were grounded just days before the start of the Christmas travel rush.
A sudden power outage caused by a fire in an underground electrical facility brought Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International to a standstill.
Georgia Power said on its Twitter page that “Power has been restored on all concourses. 5,000-plus meals are being delivered to passengers. Trains will be operational soon.”
Passengers at the airport were left in the dark when the lights went out at around 1pm local time. The outage halted all outgoing flights, and arriving planes were held on the ground at their point of departure. International flights were being diverted, officials said.
Mayor Kasim Reed tweeted Sunday night that all passengers had been safely deplaned.
The City of Atlanta said on its Twitter page that it would provide shuttle service to the Georgia Convention Center for travellers in need of a place to stay and food would be provided.
Delta passenger Emilia Duca, 32, was on her way to Wisconsin from Bogota, Colombia, when she got stuck in Atlanta. She said police made passengers who were in the baggage-claim area move to a higher floor. She said restaurants and shops were closed. Vending machines weren’t working.
“A lot of people are arriving, and no one is going out. No one is saying anything official. We are stuck here,” she said. “It’s a nightmare.”
Adding to the nightmare are what some passengers said was a lack of information from airport officials and help from first responders to get the disabled and the elderly through the airport without the use of escalators and elevators.
“They had these elderly people, handicapped people lined up in wheelchairs, said stranded passenger Rutia Curry. ”The people were helpless, they can’t get down the stairs, it was just a nightmare.“
Passenger James Beatty said there was no real method for evacuation.
“I mean there was 40 or 50 people per the terminal area that were confined to wheelchairs and some that couldn’t get through the airport very well, some of them actually couldn’t walk and there was no plan at all to get them out of here without any power.”
Mr Beatty said passengers carried those who used wheelchairs down stairs.
Delta, with its biggest hub operation in Atlanta, will be hardest hit. By evening, Delta had already cancelled almost 900 Sunday flights and another 300 on Monday, nearly all of them in Atlanta, according to tracking service FlightAware.com.
Delta customers flying to or from Atlanta can make a one-time change to travel plans without incurring a change fee. The airline also encouraged travellers not to pick up their bags on Monday because of anticipated congestion at the airport.
Robert Mann, an aviation consultant and former American Airlines executive, said it likely will be Tuesday before Delta’s operations in Atlanta return to normal, and for passengers “it could be most of the week” because there aren’t many open seats on other flights in the last week before Christmas.
“Tomorrow is going to be a long and difficult day for everybody,” Mr Mann said.
One bit of good news, according to Mann: Delta has more spare planes and available crews in Atlanta than anywhere else, which will help it to recover.
Other airlines also cancelled flights for the rest of Sunday. American Airlines cancelled 24 departures and an equal number of arrivals, said spokesman Ross Feinstein. The airline also diverted three planes that were headed to Atlanta when the outage struck, sending them instead to Dallas, Nashville and back to Philadelphia.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said it would staff the airport control tower throughout the night so that it can handle flights once they resume. The FAA said the tower could operate normally but flights were affected because airport equipment in the terminals was not working.
According to a Georgia Power statement, a fire in an underground electrical facility may have been responsible for the outage. The cause of the fire was not known.
“No personnel or passengers were in danger at any time,” the statement said.
No areas outside of the airport were affected by the power loss. The utility said that there are “many redundant systems in place” to ensure the power supply to the airport and that such outages at the airport “are very rare.”
“This is the worst experience I’ve ever had at an airport,” he said.