Snow storm, human error lead to air traffic snarl at JFK Int’l Airport

Published on : Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Snow stormIn the aftermath of the snow storm, parts of JFK airport were already overloaded with planes that had been grounded during the storm. But screens showed bright yellow airplane icons of incoming flights approaching, with many more on the way.

One by one they landed. Unused runways became parking lots, with planes waiting for gates. And still they kept coming and hours and hours passed.

Yet in the complicated contraption that is Kennedy International Airport — which is managed by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the airlines, and the companies subcontracted by the airlines — it was not clear even on Monday, three days after the epic runway traffic jam, who was supposed to have stopped them.

It was the international terminals that were hit hardest, forcing the Port Authority to finally shut down two of them to incoming flights until their occupants could undo the messy knot outside and within.

A rolling cascade of emergencies brought about by human error and winter weather led to the nightmarish long weekend, as thousands of travellers from around the world found themselves trapped. And that was before frigid water from a burst pipe began raining from a ceiling in Terminal 4, pooling amid the luggage of the stranded.

The Port Authority said an investigation was underway to determine what went wrong. The truth could be weeks away, or more, as the various entities inside Kennedy — the landlord of the airport itself, the companies that move bags and direct air traffic and sell seats on airplanes — are scrutinized. For now, no one has taken full responsibility for the debacle, with the Port Authority pointing at airlines and terminal operators who have said little so far.

The turmoil was a reminder of the domino effect of air travel, and that the ripples from complications at an airport that is a vital cog in the global travel network can quickly spread across the world.


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