Photo Courtesy of Johnny Casey
By Michael V. Cusenza
It seems that John F. Kennedy International Airport last weekend came down with a drastic case of Murphy’s Law: Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.
The dominoes began to tumble on Thursday with a winter storm that, according to the National Weather Service, brought “blizzard criteria” to the travel hub for several hours, including relentless snowfall and punishing winds that exceeded 60 miles per hour at times. The conditions caused widespread delays in arrivals and departures.
Friday and Saturday saw North Dakota-like temperatures visit the northeast, with wind chill real-feel in the negative teens. This deeply affected systems and operations at the airport, exacerbating delays.
On Sunday morning, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey issued a statement regarding “the situation” at JFK.
“Yesterday’s extreme cold, amid the ongoing recovery from Thursday’s storm, created a cascading series of issues for the airlines and terminal operators. These included frozen equipment breakdowns, difficulties in baggage handling, staff shortages, and heavier than typical passenger loads. These challenges left passengers on planes for extensive periods, as the airlines and terminal operators experienced delays in getting aircraft in and out of gates,” the agency said. “The [Federal Aviation Administration], working with the Port Authority, airlines and terminal operators, diverted 17 flights. Terminal 1 was closed to incoming flights at 7 p.m. Many aircraft experienced long delays in reaching gates, particularly international flights at Terminals 1 and 4. The Port Authority provided buses to bring passengers to the terminal from 25 planes at Terminals 1 and 4.”
Then things went from awful to horrendous.
At approximately 2 p.m., a water pipe that feeds the sprinkler system broke in the privately operated Terminal 4. After water from the broken pipe began flooding the terminal, power to the affected areas of the terminal was shut off for safety reasons. The event “significantly disrupted” operations at Terminal 4, according to Port Authority.
“What happened at JFK Airport is unacceptable, and travelers expect and deserve better,” said Port Authority Executive Director Rick Cotton. “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. The Port Authority is committed to providing the highest caliber of service to all travelers and we will hold those responsible accountable for any shortcomings we find.”
On Wednesday, Port Authority announced that former U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood will lead an independent investigation into the events at JFK Airport during and following Thursday’s storm.