JFK recovers from weekend crisis in storm’s aftermath

JFK recovers from weekend crisis in storm’s aftermath
Photo by Ellis Kaplan
By Bill Parry

John F. Kennedy International Airport began returning to normal after a confluence of events that crippled one of the nation’s busiest airports Sunday.

All four runways were operational by Monday afternoon, and a majority of flights were on or close to schedule after the Federal Aviation Administration instituted a selective ground stop to help manage the air traffic volume and ensure there were adequate gates for arriving flights, according to the Port Authority.

“What happened at JFK was completely unacceptable, and we will investigate what went wrong and prevent it from happening again,” Port Authority Executive Director Rick Cotton said.

JFK was trying to manage a backlog of flights that were canceled or delayed during Winter Storm Grayson last Thursday. Ground operations were slowed and understaffed, and equipment was frozen following the storm as airlines allowed too many arriving flights, overwhelming available gates and leaving many planes parked on taxiways with nowhere to go, Cotton said.

Problems persisted as temperatures plunged into the single digits over the weekend, culminating with a water-pipe break Sunday that caused flooding and the evacuation of Terminal 4 and the temporary suspension of international flights.

“While the water-pipe break that occurred appears to be weather-related, we have launched an investigation into the incident to determine exactly what occurred and why an internal pipe was not weather-protected and whether any other failures contributed to this disruption,” Cotton said.

The Port Authority was in close contact with FAA officials Monday, and it brought in additional staff and equipment to help the airlines and terminal operators. Meanwhile, domestic airlines and international carriers sped the process of returning baggage to travelers. The Port Authority deployed additional customer service representatives to assist with passenger communications.

“The primary problem appears to be international airlines arriving without available gates at the international terminals, but we thoroughly review all aspects of what happened leading up to and during the snowstorm, and the recovery period afterwards,” Cotton said. “We are fully committed to finding out what caused the failures and preventing them from happening again.”

Passengers are urged to contact their airlines for specific flight information before heading to the airport and to leave extra time to get to terminal gates.

Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparry@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4538.