Late Tuesday evening, an essential piece of the aviation transportation network operated by the Federal Aviation Administration failed.
And because of that the FAA temporarily grounded all flights nationwide on Wednesday morning.
The ground stop was lifted by 8:50 am east coast time. But the fallout included more than 1,300 canceled flights and close to 10,500 delayed flights over the course of the day, according to flight-tracking website FlightAware.
And, as we know, when that happens, it can take a few days for flight schedules to fully get back in order.
What went wrong?
The FAA’s Notice to Air Missions (NOTAM) system, which provides critical safety and operational information to pilots stopped working. And without that information, it wasn’t safe for any planes to take from any airport.
After the reboot, flights resumed. And by Wednesday evening, the FAA issued a statement with some explanation of what went wrong and a reassurance that the agency wasn’t the victim of a cyber-attack. The agency also promises to ‘further pinpoint’ what went wrong, and “prevent this kind of disruption from happening again.”
“The FAA is continuing a thorough review to determine the root cause of the Notice to Air Missions (NOTAM) system outage. Our preliminary work has traced the outage to a damaged database file. At this time, there is no evidence of a cyber attack. The FAA is working diligently to further pinpoint the causes of this issue and take all needed steps to prevent this kind of disruption from happening again.”
Passengers whose flights were canceled are owed refunds by the airlines, even though this was an FAA-induced incident. Most airlines are waiving change fees and allowing ticketed passengers to change plans and trying to rebook passengers on other flights. If your travel plans were disrupted, be sure to see if the credit card you used to book the flight has some sort of travel delay insurance. Here are links to the Travel Alert page for many airlines.
As if the flight delays, diversions and cancellations from last week’s nor’easter weren’t enough to ruin a gazillion travel plans into the middle of next week for travelers hoping to fly into and out of New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport, on Sunday afternoon a water pipe burst at JFK Terminal 4, sending several inches of water into the arrivals area of Terminal 3, which serves Delta, Virgin Atlantic and more than two dozen other international airlines.
For safety reasons, electricity to the terminal was shut down, and that meant delayed flights, stranded passengers, diverted flights – and a big pile-up of baggage.
To make matters worse – there’s more bad weather on the way and some airlines have issued a new round of change fee waivers and cancellation alerts for Atlanta and some northeast and mid-Atlantic airports. Here are links to some of the alerts posted by airlines late Sunday evening:
We are monitoring a weather system expected to bring mixed precipitation to parts of the U.S. Southeast & Northeast on Monday. A winter weather waiver has been issued for ATL & airports across the Northeast to allow customers to adjust their travel plans. https://t.co/fclvtySdQy
Next week Sheraton Hotels and Resorts will be at JFK Airport Terminal 7 giving travelers prizes for their flight delays.
From Monday, Dec. 21 through Thursday Dec. 24, Sheraton will invite travelers to scan their plane tickets at a “Delight my Delay” kiosk for a chance to convert their delayed minutes into prizes such as resort vacations in Waikiki, cameras, drones, gift cards and more.
There’s also an option to get double prizes and pay one forward to another traveler.
Travel enough and you’ll have one of those days when a short flight delay turns into a long one.
Then that long delay turns into an unreasonably long one.
And then the airline informs you that, contrary to what the mechanics have been saying for the past three or four hours, the airplane you’ve been sitting on isn’t going to fly.
And then you’re in line with a lot of really cranky people at the customer service desk waiting for a hotel voucher so you can try again in the morning.
After a forty minute wait for the hotel van, you arrive at the hotel the customer service agent described as “really, really nice, you’ll love it!” to discover that it’s a really creepy hotel with a no-smoking floor that reeks of smoke.
But you consider yourself lucky, because the front desk clerk exchanges your food voucher for the bar’s last bottle of wine which, she admits, the bartender ran out to buy at the grocery store because the bar had somehow run dry.
As the person who wrote a book about being Stuck at the Airport (it was published eight weeks before 9/11 and, as you might imagine, was not a big seller) and who now writes this Stuck at The Airport blog, it was a delight to be asked to round-up advice about the best airports for stranded travelers for this month’s At the Airport column on USA TODAY.
Feel free to add notes in the comment section below about which airports you’d be happily stranded in….
Traveler – by Duane Hanson, at Orlando International Airport
Earlier this month a tsunami of snowstorms and bitter cold air (the so-called “polar vortex”) forced the pre-emptive and day-of cancellation of tens of thousands of flights and hours-long delays for thousands of others.
That wacky weather also left plenty of passengers stuck at airports large and small.
No traveler (well, except me … ) enjoys spending more time in airport terminals than they have to, but weather, mechanical issues and other snafus are simply a fact of modern-day flying.
In some airports the wait can be more than pleasant than in others. So we asked frequent travelers to help us make a list of the best airports to be stranded in.
Dana Freeman of Burlington, Vt., said she never minds spending a few extra hours at the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. “It has great local food, free Wi-Fi, clean spaces, and they got the architecture just right; the main space is voluminous and gets in plenty of light, making it feel really big for a medium-sized airport.”
With 23 concerts at various venues throughout the terminal each week, AUS also leads the list of airports that keep delayed travelers entertained with live performances that help time fly by.
Amanda Castleman is happy to wait out a delay at her hometown airport, Seattle-Tacoma International, “Thanks to the free Wi-Fi, good restaurants, Vino Volo, Butter London nail salon, the Massage Bar, etc.”
Here are some of the other airports – and airport amenities – that help travelers find the upside of being stranded.
Francine Cohen, a New York-based hospitality industry consultant, is keen on Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT) for the rocking chairs, a stress-busting amenity found also at airports in Boston, Seattle, Philadelphia, Houston, Sacramento and other cities.
“They provide a great sense of calm when you’re stuck” said Cohen, “Not only because rocking is soothing,” but because the chairs offer a great perch for watching planes take off and land and people stream by.
CLT also got the nod from frequent travelers for the Terminal Getaway Spa, which will be opening three new branches at Chicago’s O’Hare airport and one at Orlando International Airport in the next few weeks.
The massages, manicures, pedicures and other services offered by XpresSpa, Massage Bar and other companies with multiple or one-off airport locations also factor into which airport many travelers are willing to wait out a delay. But whenever Stephanie Caro of Houston has extra hours to spend at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, she heads straight for Minute Suites on Concourse B. The small rooms for napping or working rent by the hour and are also available at Philadelphia International and DFW airports.
Yoga rooms also scored high on the list of amenities that helped make airport delays bearable and these are currently available at DFW Airport, Chicago O’Hare, Vermont’s Burlington International Airport and at San Francisco International, which is opening its second space devoted to yoga on Jan. 28, in United Airlines’ renovated Boarding Area E.
Sally Farhat Kassab loves “the huge selection of shops and the interesting people from around the world that I meet every time” she’s at London’s Heathrow Airport and appreciates the “Stay & Play” areas staffed by “play coordinators” who host craft activities and storytelling sessions and help parents keep an eye on their kids.
I haven’t found any U.S. airports with play attendants on duty, but the kids’ activity centers offered by airports in cities such as Dallas/Fort Worth, Seattle, Chicago, San Francisco, Cincinnati and Las Vegas got raves from parents who have needed to entertain children during a delay. The new beach-themed play area in the Tom Bradley International Terminal (TBIT) at Los Angeles International Airport is gathering fans as well.
Best for eating and drinking
When you’re dashing between flights, a grab-n-go sandwich will often do. But when you’re hanging around an airport for hours, there’s time to focus on where to dine.
USA TODAY readers weighed in via a USA TODAY/10Best.com poll that gave high marks to Vino Volo (with branches in more than 20 airports), the Salt Lick Bar-B-Que at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, the healthy seasonal Southern California comfort food at Lemonade in LAX and all things crab at Obrycki’s at Baltimore-Washington International Airport.
One Flew South, serving “Southernational” cuisine (and great sushi) is a perennial favorite at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, but flight attendant Heather Poole said she’s always happy to wait out a delay at Miami International Airport because then she can visit her favorite restaurant there, La Carreta, for Cuban food. “I’d skip any first-class meal for that,” she said.
Passengers can kill time during a delay reading books, watching movies or catching up on e-mail, of course, but those willing to venture from their gates will be rewarded with intriguing art and/or history exhibits at many airports. Miami, San Diego, Phoenix, San Francisco, Milwaukee, Seattle, and New York’s Albany International Airport are among the airports with great art programs or in-house museums, as are the airports that made it onto this USA TODAY/10Best.com best U.S. airports for art list.
When a delay stretches from minutes to hours, a canceled flight can’t be far behind. That’s when an airport that can be easily escaped from has its charms.
Miami International, Chicago O’Hare, DFW, Orlando, Tampa, Detroit and Houston’s George Bush International are among the airports with hotels connected to the terminals, making that fresh start in the morning a bit easier to imagine. And Seattle, Portland, Ore., Atlanta, Boston, Miami, Chicago and Washington, D.C., are among the cities offering easy and inexpensive public transit to and from town.
Did I miss your favorite? If you “had” to get stranded at an airport, which would you choose, and why? Feel free to add your comments below.
We’ve already heard from Andrew Smith – the Chief Funster for New South Wales (and winner of the NSW Best Job in the World promotion). He’s fine with hanging out for hours at the Sydney Airport because there are pubs serving Aussie beer, a Lonely Planet concept store and a mini-museum of uniforms, navigational equipment and other memorabilia from Qantas.