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Atlanta's Airport Is Still a Nightmare After a Brutal Power Outage

Hundreds of flights were canceled Monday, and the ripple effects could be felt nationwide.

by Drew Schwartz
Dec 18 2017, 6:39pm

Photo by John Amis / AP

Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport descended into chaos Sunday after a massive power outage stranded thousands of customers and forced airlines to cancel more than 1,150 flights. And a day later—even after the electricity came back on—navigating the airport was still a struggle.

More than 400 flights were canceled Monday and at least 42 more were delayed, NBC News reported. Meanwhile, travelers who found themselves stranded at the airport Sunday night were still jammed up by morning, with some passengers still passed out in chairs and camped out on the floor.

The trouble began at about 1 PM Sunday, when the world's busiest airport went dark. A fire at the power station supplying Hartsfield-Jackson appeared to cut off electricity to the hub, forcing airlines to cancel about 1,180 flights and delay more than 200, according to CNN. Meanwhile, folks whose planes had landed or boarded just before the outage were stuck on the tarmac for hours. Some languished for as long as seven hours aboard their planes before airport personnel could help them down onto the tarmac and lead them inside, CNN reports.

For some passengers, that wasn't even the worst of it.

Inside the airport, thousands of people were trapped in pitch-black terminals, struggling to make their way to an exit. Some ambled through the labyrinthine, 6.8 million square-foot complex in near-total darkness, using flashlights on their phones to see through the abyss, as the Washington Post reported. Even if they made it outside (which some didn't—just giving up, plopping down in a chair, and hoping for the best), they found themselves in insane lines for Atlanta's abysmal public transit system. Others waited for hours in a taxi line that descended into "pandemonium," as one passenger told CNN.

Apparently the fire that caused the whole mess also took out the backup power supply, which should have kicked in just after the airport first went dark. Finally, at about midnight, the airport regained electricity, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports. But according to Desmond Ross, principal of DRA Professional Aviation Services—which helps manage airlines and airports across the globe—even with the power back on, the catastrophe wasn't nearly over.

"We're talking possibly millions of people disrupted over the next few days," he told CNN.

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