MIAMI – Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, considered to be the airport handling the largest amount of air traffic in the world, was slowly – and with difficulty – returning to normal on Monday after being paralyzed for more than 10 hours on the weekend by a power blackout.
The Federal Aviation Administration said on Twitter that the airport, which processes almost 2,500 flights and 275,000 passengers each day, should have been operating normally starting around noon on Monday, given that its air traffic control facilities were completely operational and staffed with the necessary personnel.
Meanwhile, Atlanta media outlets were broadcasting photographs and videos of the tens of thousands of people jamming the airport and trying to find seats on Monday flights.
Thousands of flights originating or ending at – or passing through – Atlanta were cancelled or diverted on Sunday after a fire in an underground installation of the Georgia Power electric company left the airport without electricity about 1:00 pm at a time of year when there is much passenger movement because of the upcoming Christmas holiday.
Some 30,000 people were directly affected by the blackout, Atlanta Mayor Kadim Reed said when power was reestablished shortly before midnight on Sunday.
The impact of the blackout was felt at many other airports around the country, particularly in the neighboring state of Florida, where many cancellations and/or delays were registered.
Long lines formed starting early Monday morning at the ticket and check-in counters at the Atlanta airport with many frustrated passengers seeking to be shifted to flights out of the Georgia capital.
Delta Airlines alone, which has its main transport hub in Atlanta, cancelled about 400 flights scheduled for Monday, after temporarily suspending them on Sunday.
Security stations providing access to the airport gates opened at 3:30 am on Monday, but the train linking the terminals was not operating until about 10:15 am, according to information posted by the airport on its Twitter account.
According to CNN, which is based in Atlanta, the most fortunate passengers were able to get onto flights on Monday, but the network reported that many companies were telling their passengers that there would not be space for them at all within the next five days.
Delta, which provided any passenger affected by the blackout with a free flight change on Dec. 17-19, said that its projections were that it would be operating as normal by Monday afternoon.
Mayor Reed told local media that two electric substations providing service to the airport were damaged by the fire, including the backup system designed to avert situations like the one that occurred on Sunday.
CNN said that investigators gained access to the tunnel where the fire broke out with an eye toward determining whether it was accidental or set on purpose, although Reed said that – so far – there was no sign that the blaze was intentional.
It took firefighters about two-and-a-half hours to bring the fire under control.
The Hartsfield-Jackson airport handles flights to 150 US destinations and more than 75 destinations in 50 countries, employs more than 63,000 people and has the tallest control tower in North America at 121 meters (398 feet).