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Aviation

Travel nightmare as sudden power cut brings world’s busiest airport to a standstill

The blackout at Hartfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport lasted almost 12 hours, grounded more than 1,000 flights and threw schedules into chaos before the Christmas rush

PUBLISHED : Monday, 18 December, 2017, 8:40am
UPDATED : Monday, 18 December, 2017, 11:09pm

A sudden power cut caused by a fire in an underground electrical facility brought the world’s busiest airport to a standstill on Sunday, grounding more than 1,000 flights in Atlanta just days before the start of the Christmas travel rush.

It took almost 12 hours before electricity was fully restored to Jackson Atlanta International, which fell dark at 1pm on Sunday.

Georgia Power said on Twitter that power was back in the airport’s atrium and several concourses. Just after midnight, the airport tweeted: “Power has been restored on all concourses. 5,000+ meals are being delivered to passengers. Trains will be operational soon.”

The power cut stopped all outgoing flights, and arriving planes were held on the ground at their point of departure. International flights were diverted, officials said.

Mayor Kasim Reed tweeted that all passengers had left their planes safely.

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 Chick-fil-A 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 were not 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 is 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 lifts.

“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.

Delta, with its biggest hub operation in Atlanta, was 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.

Robert Mann, an aviation consultant and former American Airlines executive, said it will probably be Tuesday when Delta’s operations in Atlanta return to normal, and for passengers “it could be most of the week” because there are not many open seats on other flights in the last week before Christmas.

“Tomorrow is going to be a long and difficult day for everybody,” Mann said.

The 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 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”.