Lack of communication caused JFK chaos: Schumer

Lack of communication caused JFK chaos: Schumer
Photo by Ellis Kaplan
By Gina Martinez

After last week’s chaos at John F. Kennedy International Airport, which left passengers stranded and without their baggage, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-New York) is calling on the U.S. Department of Transportation to put federal pressure on foreign airlines to work with the Port Authority.

After the Jan. 4 bomb cyclone, all flights in and out of JFK were canceled. Flights resumed the following day, but planes landing on the tarmac became stranded because all the gates were full. According to Schumer, this could have been prevented if the airlines and ground operations communicated better about the space limitations at the airport.

On top of the delays, a water main broke and flooded Terminal 4’s baggage claim area, separating thousands of pieces of luggage from their owners, some for nearly a week.

Schumer said that while many factors led to the situation, the lack of communication between foreign airlines and the Port Authority intensified the chaos. Schumer, who said that some travelers are still without their luggage, has made a formal push for the U.S. Department of Transportation to take an active role in bringing foreign airlines, along with the Port Authority and its terminal operators, to come up with a coordination and communication plan to prevent such dysfunction.

“Make no mistake, there is plenty of blame to go around when it comes to what happened at JFK, but some of that blame squarely lands on a lack of communication between foreign airlines that flooded JFK with flights and the entities that manage the airport,” Schumer said. “It was this lack of communication that helped to create the chaos at Kennedy, and it is only through improving this system that we will prevent this from happening again.”

The six terminals at JFK are subcontracted by the airlines and managed by independent operators. According to reports, JFK’s international terminals, Terminals 1 and 4, were affected most by the bomb cyclone fiasco. Two days after the bomb cyclone hit, Terminal 1 was forced to close down because of flight capacity. Terminal 4 was then evacuated after the water main burst.

Schumer is turning to the U.S. DOT because the agency has the strongest leverage over foreign airlines, since it issued Foreign Air Carrier Certificates that allow foreign airlines to fly in the United States.

The Port Authority recently announced that it was conducting a thorough investigation of the situation. Schumer acknowledged the investigation is a good step, but said the U.S DOT should move forward with addressing some of the underlying issues immediately.

In his letter addressed to U.S DOT Secretary Elaine Chao, Schumer asked that DOT require foreign carriers to make improvements to their communication systems at JFK.

“While certainly not the only factor, in this case communication breakdowns between international airlines and ground operations contributed to an unacceptable situation,” he wrote. “Passengers were left stranded, luggage was lost, and flights were diverted as a result of, among other things, the inability for international airlines, the Port Authority, and terminal operators to quickly and adequately communicate on a plan of action.

“It’s notable that while every airline experienced issues as a result of the weather-related emergency, the situation was far worse with foreign carriers. It’s my firm belief that part of the reason for that is that foreign airlines simply do not have the same level of cooperation, coordination, and communication with ground control operations.”

Reach Gina Martinez by e-mail at gmartinez@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4566.