A sudden power outage caused by a fire in an underground electrical facility brought the world’s busiest airport to a standstill Sunday, grounding more than 1,000 flights in Atlanta just days before the start of the Christmas travel rush.
More than 10 hours after the blackout began, authorities announced that electricity had been restored to several areas of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International. Georgia Power announced early Monday that power had been fully restored.
Passengers at the airport were left in the dark when the lights went out at around 1 p.m. Sunday. The outage halted all outgoing flights, and arriving planes were held on the ground at their point of departure. International flights were being diverted, officials said.
Delta, with its biggest hub operation in Atlanta, will be hardest hit. By evening, Delta had already cancelled almost 800 Sunday flights and another 250 on Monday, nearly all of them in Atlanta, according to tracking service FlightAware.com.
Robert Mann, an aviation consultant and former American Airlines executive, said it likely will be Tuesday before Delta’s operations in Atlanta return to normal, and for passengers “it could be most of the week” because there aren’t many open seats on other flights in the last week before Christmas.
“Tomorrow is going to be a long and difficult day for everybody,” Mann said.
One bit of good news, according to Mann: Delta has more spare planes and available crews in Atlanta than anywhere else, which will help it to recover.
While Delta was hit hardest by the outage, other airlines also canceled flights for the rest of Sunday. American Airlines canceled 24 departures and an equal number of arrivals, said spokesman Ross Feinstein. The airline also diverted three planes that were headed to Atlanta when the outage struck, sending them instead to Dallas, Nashville and back to Philadelphia.
At Southwest Airlines, about 70 Atlanta departures out of 120 scheduled for Sunday were cancelled, an airline spokesman said in an email. United Airlines and JetBlue Airways were among carriers reporting delays or cancellations.
The FAA said it would staff the airport control tower throughout the night so that it can handle flights once they resume. The FAA said the tower could operate normally but flights were affected because airport equipment in the terminals was not working.
Hartsfield-Jackson, which serves 104 million passengers a year, is the world’s busiest airport, a distinction it has held since 1998. The airport serves an average of 275,000 passengers daily, according to its website. Nearly 2,500 planes arrive and depart each day.
The airlines have already issued change fee waivers for the power blackout. Use the links below to view each airline’s policy: