Flooding at JFK airport worsens travel delays

A snow pile near Astor Place in New York. A massive cold front hit the eastern seaboard of the US, with temperatures that could reach -20 deg C.
A snow pile near Astor Place in New York. A massive cold front hit the eastern seaboard of the US, with temperatures that could reach -20 deg C.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

NEW YORK • Travellers 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 in the United States.

The meltdown on Sunday, two days after the year's first major snowstorm, forced 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 spilt 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 in a statement late on Sunday called the weekend's events "unacceptable" and said it will investigate.

"They should've been better prepared," said Mr Charles Schumer, the Democratic leader in the US Senate from New York. "It seemed like a disaster, whether it's the runways not being ploughed, 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 ploughed clear of snow and reopened by Sunday, inbound flights faced 21/2-hour delays as the 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 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 on Sunday.

"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 last Saturday 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, 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 Airlines.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 09, 2018, with the headline 'Flooding at JFK airport worsens travel delays'. Print Edition | Subscribe