Travelers At Atlanta’s Airport Focus On Getting Home After Blackout

After Sunday’s underground electrical fire and power outage at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, travelers and airlines were still piecing their schedules back together Monday morning.
Credit Molly Samuel / WABE
Audio version of this story here.

An underground electrical fire turned Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International from the world’s busiest airport to a dark standstill Sunday for thousands of travelers.

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Heather Mentzer was among the stranded travelers at Hartsfield. She landed in Atlanta from Newark, New Jersey, around 12:30 p.m. Nearly 12 hours later, she was still there.

“I’m afraid we’re not getting home tomorrow,” Mentzer said. “It’s not looking good.”

She was one of the hundreds of people who decided to stay in the airport during the outage hoping to be first in line to reschedule their flights. Mentzer said if she wasn’t able to get home in a reasonable time Monday, she would rent a car and make the drive home.

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed held a news conference at the airport’s emergency operation center Sunday night, about seven hours into the close to 10-hour power outage.

“I want to express my sincere apologies to the thousands of passengers whose day has been disrupted in this manner,” Reed said.

Flights in and out of Atlanta were canceled by the Federal Aviation Administration because of the power outage.

Mike Williams was flying home to Louisiana. He said he was making the most of being stuck by meeting new friends and having good conversations.

“We’ve had a really good time sitting here people-watching and talking and conversing and solving the country’s problems and airport’s problems,” Williams said.

Reed said the delays were exacerbated because it took almost two hours to get the flames under control.

“Because of the types of fumes that came through the tunnel as a result of the fire, we had to take some time before the team from Georgia Power could access the tunnels,” he said.

Reed predicted that, once power was restored, it would take six to eight hours for flights to start running again on schedule.

Travelers and airlines were still piecing their schedules back together Monday morning.

Thomas Schultz was on his way from his home in Austria to Sioux Falls, South Dakota. His flight was canceled, and he says he ended up spending the night on the floor near the plane train.

Monday morning, he said he couldn’t get on another flight that would get him there in time for the meeting he was heading to, so he was thinking of heading back to Austria.

The meeting he’s missing was important, though, he said, so he’ll try again.

“Maybe after Christmas, I must go back, you know?” he said.

Airport General Manager Roosevelt Council said he expects operations to return to normal Monday afternoon.

That may be of small comfort to people who spent hours stuck in the airport or on planes Sunday.

“It was very crazy, chaotic. We didn’t have water for a long time, so we had to wait until there was water delivered to us,” said Sonia Mendoza, who was traveling home to Chicago from Mexico when she and her 4-year-old daughter got trapped on their layover in Atlanta.

She said usually she has a layover in Houston; this was her first time making the trip through Atlanta, and she said she hopes it’s her last.

“It wasn’t a very good experience,” she said.

Reed said Sunday night, if there was any positive from this is it didn’t happen during a busy travel time, especially with an expected busy Christmas travel weekend less than a week away.