Airlines inch back to normalcy after airport blackout
ATLANTA (AP) — The nation's air-travel system struggled to get back on schedule and re-book stranded passengers today after a fire and blackout at the world's busiest airport forced the cancellation of more than 1,500 flights days before the start of the Christmas rush.
Travelers sat on the floor, slumped in chairs or stood in long lines at ticket counters a day after the underground blaze knocked out electricity and crippled Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport for about 11 hours.
A spokesman for Delta, by far the biggest airline at the airport, said most of its delayed passengers were booked on other flights scheduled to leave today. Spokesman Michael Thomas said the airline should be "largely if not completely" back to normal by Tuesday, well before the huge travel weekend ahead of Christmas Day.
But no matter how fast Delta and other airlines move, it will take a few days to get the hundreds of thousands of grounded passengers to their final destinations, said Robert Mann, president of an airline consulting firm in Port Washington, N.Y. In rare cases, some passengers won't arrive until Thursday, he said.
"There are just so few seats available during a peak holiday week, that's just going to take a lot of flights with four or five seats apiece," Mann said.
Southwest, the airport's second-largest airline, said it was back on a normal schedule, but a spokesman could not say how long it would take to clear the backlog of stranded travelers.
American Airlines, which is much smaller, said that it, too, booked many of its passengers on new flights but that some will have to wait until later in the week to fly.
The fire broke out Sunday afternoon next to equipment for a backup system, causing that to fail, too. Power wasn't fully restored until about midnight.
The control tower did not lose power because it has a separate electrical feed, and planes that were in the air and close to Atlanta when the blackout hit were allowed to land. Other incoming flights were diverted, and outgoing flights were halted.
Anthony Foxx, who was transportation secretary under President Barack Obama, was among many travelers stuck for hours in a plane on the tarmac. He blasted airport officials, saying the problem was "compounded by confusion and poor communication."
"Total and abject failure here at ATL Airport today," he tweeted, adding that there was "no excuse for lack of workable redundant power source. NONE!"