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Travelers from around the world faced more chaos Sunday after flooding at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport caused fresh flight delays and diversions amid operations already strained by a snowstorm and freezing temperatures.
The meltdown, two days after the year’s first major snowstorm, left passengers to deal with long lines to rebook canceled flights and to search through mountains of luggage for their bags — if they could get into JFK at all.
Their frustration, which spilled over to social media, was echoed by politicians pressing for change at the airport and its operator, the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, which in a statement late Sunday called the weekend’s events “unacceptable” and said it will investigate.
“They should’ve been better prepared,” said Charles Schumer, the Democratic leader in the U.S. Senate from New York. “It seemed like a disaster, whether it’s the runways not being plowed, whether it’s the baggage machines that transport the baggage freezing, whether it’s not notifying people what’s going on.”
While all runways and taxiways had been plowed clear of snow and reopened by Sunday, inbound flights faced two-and-a-half hour delays as federal and local authorities carefully managed the flow of traffic at New York City’s main international travel gateway, according to the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration’s website.
Passengers faced a fresh headache when a water main break flooded the baggage claim area and customs hall of Terminal 4 and halted international arrivals. The afternoon’s slate of flights were canceled or delayed — more than five hours in some cases. At least eight flights were diverted to airports ranging from Montreal to Piarco on Trinidad and Tobago, according to FlightRadar24.
“Airlines remain in recovery mode, rebooking passengers from canceled flights and reuniting passengers with their luggage,” the Port Authority said in a statement Sunday. “Frigid temperatures continue to cause equipment failures and slower than normal operations. Customers may experience residual delays, particularly for international flights.”
Many inbound travelers sat for hours on parked planes Saturday as the airport and operators struggled to get aircraft to and from gates. The Port Authority blamed “cascading” issues that included the large numbers of holiday travelers to frozen equipment breakdowns, difficulties in baggage handling and staff shortages.
The gridlock was particularly bad at Delta Air Lines’ international hub at Terminal 4 along with Terminal 1, which is used by overseas carriers such as Air France and Japan Air Lines. Officials eventually diverted 17 flights, shut down Terminal 1 and used buses to transport travelers from 25 airliners to it and Terminal 4.
Travelers took to social media to vent at the delays, the chaos and the lack of information shared by the airlines and airport.
“Jfk airport right now is honestly how I imagine an apocalypse would be like,” @isabellaucci said on Twitter, after waiting more than nine hours for another flight after her JetBlue departure was canceled Sunday.
The Port Authority, meanwhile, vowed to investigate the burst pipe at Terminal
4, which is privately run.
“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,” Port Authority Executive Director Rick Cotton said.