Travellers from around the world faced more chaos after flooding at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport caused fresh flight delays and diversions amid operations already strained by a snowstorm and freezing temperatures.
The meltdown, two days after the year’s first major snowstorm, left passengers to deal with long lines to rebook cancelled flights and to search through mountains of luggage for their bags—if they could get into JFK at all.
Their frustration, which spilled over to social media, was echoed by politicians pressing for change at the airport and its operator, the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, which called the weekend’s events “unacceptable” and said it will investigate.
“They should’ve been better prepared,” said Charles Schumer, the Democratic leader in the US Senate from New York. “It seemed like a disaster, whether it’s the runways not being plowed, whether it’s the baggage machines that transport the baggage freezing, whether it’s not notifying people what’s going on.”
While all runways and taxiways had been plowed clear of snow and reopened by January 7, inbound flights faced two-and-a-half hour delays as federal and local authorities carefully managed the flow of traffic at New York City’s main international travel gateway, according to the US Federal Aviation Administration’s website.
Passengers faced a fresh headache when a water main break flooded the baggage claim area and customs hall of Terminal 4 and halted international arrivals. The afternoon’s slate of flights were cancelled or delayed—more than five hours in some cases. At least eight flights were diverted to airports ranging from Montreal to Piarco on Trinidad and Tobago, according to FlightRadar24.
“Airlines remain in recovery mode, rebooking passengers from cancelled flights and reuniting passengers with their luggage,” the Port Authority said in a statement. “Frigid temperatures continue to cause equipment
failures and slower than normal operations. Customers may experience residual delays, particularly for international flights.”
Many inbound travellers sat for hours on parked planes on January 6 as the airport and operators struggled to get aircraft to and from gates. The Port Authority blamed “cascading” issues that included the large numbers of holiday travellers to frozen equipment breakdowns, difficulties in baggage handling and staff shortages.
The gridlock was particularly bad at Delta Air Lines’ international hub at Terminal 4 along with Terminal 1, which is used by overseas carriers such as Air France and Japan Air Lines. Officials diverted 17 flights, shut down Terminal 1 and used buses to transport travelers from 25 airliners to it and Terminal 4.
Travellers took to social media to vent at the delays, the chaos and the lack of information shared by the airlines and airport. The Port Authority, meanwhile, vowed to investigate the burst pipe at Terminal4, which is privately run.