December 18, 2017 10:20:48 AM
Editor's note: The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Three flights between Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and the Golden Triangle Regional Airport were canceled Sunday due to a power outage at one of the world's busiest airports, leaving passengers heading for the Golden Triangle stranded nearly 300 miles east.
A sudden power outage at the Atlanta airport grounded more than 1,000 flights Sunday afternoon, according to The Associated Press. Though power has been restored, thousands of people are still stranded at the airport this morning, just days before the start of the Christmas travel rush.
The outage has affected about 150 people in the Golden Triangle, GTR executive director Mike Hainsey said. About 50 people were expected to be on each of the three canceled flights.
One more flight scheduled to leave Atlanta and head to Columbus this morning was delayed.
"It looks like the flights this morning are running about two hours behind," Hainsey said.
Close to 150 people travel from GTR each day during the holiday season, Hainsey said. Around 300 people total travel to and from the airport daily this time of year, which was the case Sunday.
"For us, everything connects through Atlanta," Hainsey said.
Caused by underground fire
The power outage that Georgia Power said was caused by a fire in an underground electrical facility brought the airport to a standstill Sunday about 1 p.m.
All outgoing flights were halted, and arriving planes were held on the ground at their point of departure. International flights were being diverted, officials said.
Delta Air Lines, with its biggest hub in Atlanta, will be hardest hit. By Sunday evening, Delta had already canceled nearly 900 flights and another 300 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.
One bit of good news, according to Mann: Delta has more spare planes and available crews in Atlanta than anywhere else, which should help it to recover.
Delta customers flying to or from Atlanta can make a one-time change to travel plans without incurring a $200 change fee. The airline also encouraged travelers not to pick up their bags Monday because of anticipated congestion at the airport.
Still, when flights at Atlanta were grounded for most of one day last spring, it took Delta five days -- and about 4,000 canceled flights -- before it fully recovered.
Like Sunday's outage, that April storm hit Delta's largest hub at a busy travel time when there weren't many empty seats to accommodate customers from canceled flights. At the time, CEO Ed Bastian vowed Delta would make "significant improvements" to its system for scheduling and tracking aircraft crews to recover more quickly from disruptions.
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.
The city of Atlanta provided shuttle service to the Georgia Convention Center on Sunday for travelers needing a place to stay.
Airport workers were distributing bottled water, and Dunkin' Donuts was giving out doughnuts. Chick-fil-A, which is usually closed on Sundays, opened to provide meals for travelers, according to the airport's Twitter feed.
Officer Lisa Bender of the Atlanta Police Department said officers were at the airport to help with crowd control and managing traffic around the airport.
At Southwest Airlines, about 70 Atlanta departures out of 120 scheduled for Sunday were canceled, an airline spokesman said in an email. United Airlines and JetBlue Airways were among carriers reporting delays or cancellations.
American Airlines reported only a handful of diversions and cancellations because the carrier does not use Atlanta as a hub, airline spokeswoman Alexis Aran Coello.
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.
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