Atlanta’s kink snarls nation’s air-travel net

6:26 p.m Monday, Dec. 18, 2017 Local
Passengers line up at the Delta counter at Palm Beach International Airport Monday morning, Dec. 18, 2017. South Florida airports had some delays on flights to Atlanta after Sunday night’s power outage at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)

The University of Akron women’s basketball team had just checked in at Cleveland’s airport when they learned their Southwest flight was cancelled because of the shutdown at Atlanta’s airport. They called their team buses back to the airport to take them home while staff scrambled to rebook 30 people.

“I guess in a sense we were pretty fortunate,” said Candace Smith, the director of women’s basketball operations. “Before I even got through TSA, our flight was cancelled.”

The team flew out Monday, this time through Baltimore, on the way to Fort Myers, Fla., for Florida Gulf Coast University’s annual holiday tournament.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Passengers line up at the Delta counter at Palm Beach International Airport Monday morning, Dec. 18, 2017. South Florida airports had some delays on flights to Atlanta after Sunday night’s power outage at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)

The power outage at Atlanta’s airport caused cancellations across the nation that continued Monday as airlines worked to get crews, planes and passengers back in sync.

Frontier Airlines scrapped a total of 30 flights because of the outage, including two scheduled for Tuesday morning. The vast majority of those flights either departed from or landed at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, but one was a flight from New York City’s LaGuardia Airport to Cincinnati that got cancelled because the aircraft got stuck in Atlanta on Sunday.

Some passengers were rerouted quickly, but for others their new itineraries required a stay overnight or longer.

“We’re rebooking them on the next available departures as they are available; some of those are a few days away,” Frontier spokesman Richard Oliver said.

Stranded passengers were being considered on a case-by-case basis for hotel vouchers or other resources, he said.

The outage in Atlanta likely had ripple effects not just across the nation but internationally, said John Cox, an aviation consultant and retired U.S. Air pilot.

“Airlines schedule days in advance to make sure that the right airplane is at the right place with the right main schedule and the right flight crews,” Cox said. “So, this is an orchestra in motion that we look at every day, and at Atlanta at the world’s business airport, this orchestra plays 24 hours a day.”

The outage caused flight crews and planes to be out of place, Cox said, and caused an imbalance between carriers’ supply and demand. He said the effect is similar to when blizzards, bad thunderstorms or hurricanes disrupt normal patterns.

“Typically, on a large blizzard it takes three or four days,” Cox said. “And I think with the amount of time Atlanta was down yesterday, you’re probably looking at three to four days before it is completely sorted out.”

As a result of the outage, Southwest Airlines allowed customers scheduled to travel to, from or through Atlanta between Sunday and Tuesday to alter their travel plans without paying change fees. The company said all flights scheduled for Monday operated normally.

American Airlines cancelled 19 flights leaving Atlanta on Monday morning. That was on top of 24 flights that were not able to leave on Sunday during the outage.

“We’re back to normal this afternoon,” American spokesman Ross Feinstein said Monday. “It was just the early morning flights that we cancelled because those aircraft didn’t come in last night.”

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