Airport scenes: Those caught in the power outage

Dec 17, 2017
Steve Schaefer
Heidi Harrington (right) and her son Dillon wait to check in for their flight to New York in a dark terminal at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport on Sunday, Dec. 17, 2017. A power outage that lasted for hours brought the airport to a standstill. STEVE SCHAEFER / SPECIAL TO THE AJC

‘A great vacation up until today’

Rick and Tammy Horton had spent 10 days in Georgia celebrating Tammy’s 60th birthday.

First, there was a snowy weekend in the mountains. Then, they traveled to Tybee Island and Savannah. On Sunday, they were supposed to fly to Minneapolis so they could drive back to home.

That was before the world’s busiest airport came to a standstill.

“We got to the airport right when the power went out,” Rick Horton said. “All of a sudden the lights flickered – and out they went.”

“It had been a great vacation,” Tammy said, “up until today.”

The Hortons found a room at a Best Western near the airport, then caught a shuttle to get some dinner. When they tried to return back to the Best Western, the hotel told them the shuttle was no longer available.

They were hopeful they would be able to catch a flight Monday, but it was scheduled to arrive in Minneapolis so late it would require another overnight stay before they could drive home.

“By the time we get home, it will be a two- to three-day delay,” Rick Horton said.

Still, their outlook remained positive.

“Stuff happens,” Rick Horton said. “You can’t get upset about it. It’s out of your control.”

Said Tammy: “There’s always someone worse off than me.”

They eventually caught a ride back to their hotel.

‘None of them could tell me anything’

Ina Bond, 72, was at her wit’s end.

She was hoping to catch a connecting flight to Delray Beach, Fla.

But with no in-bound or out-bound flights, her plans – like everyone else’s – were broken.

First, she sat on the tarmac for three hours, she said, “with water and pretzels and a nasty bathroom.”

Then, she had to scramble to find a taxi and a hotel.

Her biggest frustration?

No one could provide her with any information.

“I passed a whole line of policemen,” Bond said, “and none of them could tell me anything.”

‘He had never seen this happen’

Lynn Fulcher’s flight from Salt Lake City landed in Atlanta at 2 p.m. She was supposed to catch a connecting flight to Augusta.

As she sat trapped on the plane for four hours, the captain, she said, would occasionally express wonder at what had happened.

“In his 41 years of flying, he had never seen this happen, but the power was out at the airport,” Fulcher said. “And that’s all they told us.”

Passengers finally made it inside the airport using a set of stairs that had been rolled up to the airplane.

Once inside, Fulcher couldn’t believe her eyes.

“It was completely dark – and empty,” Fulcher said.

How would she get home?

She took a shuttle to a nearby hotel, and her husband decided to drive from Augusta to pick her up.

But he got stuck in traffic.

So there she was, sitting near a window at the hotel, eating a Snickers bar and a $14 sandwich from the hotel pantry.

It was her first meal since 8:30 a.m. in Salt Lake City.

‘Like one of those apocalyptic movies’

Paul and Debbie Komater, a couple from Hartford who were flying south in to help Paul’s sick father, found themselves the ones in need of help.

Debbie Komater, who is diabetic, made the unwise choice of leaving behind the muffin part of her egg McMuffin at breakfast, not knowing she’d need the calories later.

Their connecting flight to Birmingham was canceled, and her snacks were running low, as was her blood sugar. She was praying she didn’t have to open up a prized possession: an apple pie from Lyman Orchard in Middlefield, Conn., that she was hand-delivering to her mother.

As they stumbled in the dark from their gate to the terminal, they looked around them and saw blank faces, moving like zombies through the gloom.

“It looked like one of those apocalyptic movies,” said Paul Komater. “We were living the dream — a bad dream.”

A veteran’s perspective

“I don’t know why they don’t get one of those giant-sized generators out here and hook it up,” said Lorenzo Browne, 55, a 22-year veteran trying to get back home to central Texas. “I was in the military. I’ve seen them do it.”

Browne sat in a wheelchair outside the darkened baggage claim area, waiting for a family friend who is also an Atlanta resident to come for himself and his wife to put them up for the night.

Worse than the lack of effective action was the lack of accurate information, Browne said. The veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan uses a wheelchair, but was obliged to hoist himself up and down the frozen escalator steps to get from the gate to the terminal. And that’s not easy, he said, with a titanium knee.