Water Main Break Adds to Misery for Passengers at Kennedy Airport

Adeola Dorris just wanted to go home to Guyana.

But instead, she was standing among other stranded passengers amid stacks and stacks of luggage at Kennedy International Airport in New York on Sunday afternoon. Ms. Dorris, 40, an accountant who arrived at the airport on Saturday night, had no idea when her connecting flight would leave.

“When the flight was suspended, I literally cried,” she said. “Because I’m here alone and I have nowhere to go. And you can’t tell me when I’m going to get home. And I have to work tomorrow.”

Kennedy Airport remained in disarray on Sunday, three days after New York City’s first major snowstorm of 2018 disrupted operations. Since the storm, a lingering, bone-chilling cold and a series of missteps have contributed to a logjam that has left thousands of travelers stranded and caused hundreds of flights to be canceled or diverted.

The disorder at J.F.K., one of the world’s busiest airports, rippled across the world, affecting passengers as far away as Beijing. Flights headed to New York were forced to turn back, and connecting flights that were only supposed to bring passengers to New York for a brief stay were grounded indefinitely.

On Sunday, just as there were signs that things were finally improving, a water main break in a terminal plunged the airport back into chaos. The flooding — three inches in parts of Terminal 4 — compounded the confusion that had gripped parts of Kennedy all weekend, as airlines tried to rebound from the cancellation of thousands of flights because of the storm. Officials of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates Kennedy Airport, were still trying to sort out what had gone wrong on Saturday when they had to scramble on Sunday to cope with the burst pipe.

In a news conference on Sunday evening, Rick Cotton, the executive director of the Port Authority, said that he was ordering an investigation of the water main break and the continuing flight problems. He emphasized that the terminal with the flooding was operated by a private company, not the Port Authority.

For the second day in a row, the Port Authority had to ask federal aviation officials to block some international flights from landing at Kennedy. That order would add to the two dozen flights that had been diverted to other airports since Saturday.

The protracted chaos at the airport drew harsh condemnation from Senator Chuck Schumer, who called for “a thorough review” of the airport and the Port Authority to find out what went wrong, especially since Thursday’s storm had not come as a surprise.

“They should have been way better prepared, plain and simple,” he said. “J.F.K. has to follow the Boy Scouts’ motto: ‘Be prepared.’ They weren’t.”

Mr. Cotton said he too wanted a review of how and why the system had broken down.

Mr. Cotton, an appointee of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, and the Port Authority’s director of aviation, Huntley Lawrence, were at Kennedy Airport on Sunday to address concerns. A spokesman for Mr. Cuomo referred an inquiry to the Port Authority.

Mr. Lawrence said the airport would resume normal operations on Monday.

Though the Port Authority serves as the landlord and overall operator of the airport, maintaining the runways and roadways, the airlines and other private companies operate the six terminals and are responsible for getting passengers and their baggage on and off planes, and the planes to and from the gates.

Mr. Cotton said the trouble this weekend resulted from miscommunication between some terminal operators and the airlines that are their tenants. With operations on the ground slowed in the aftermath of the storm by frozen equipment and understaffed crews, the airlines should not have brought as many planes to Kennedy as they did, Mr. Cotton said. The incoming traffic proved overwhelming, he said.

“What broke down — and it broke down badly — was the coordination between terminal operators and the airlines to assure that there were gates available for the arriving airplanes,” Mr. Cotton said.

He said some airlines reached out to the Port Authority for help on Saturday, but not before the situation at Terminal 1 had reached a crisis. One goal of the review of the situation will be to determine how the Port Authority can provide aid sooner, he said.

While Kennedy has remained open since Friday morning, parts of it had sunk into complete dysfunction, with planes full of passengers sitting for several hours on taxiways with no place to go. Passengers on more than two dozen flights were transported on buses while their luggage remained on the planes.

Brittany Morris, 20, of Stow, Ohio, waited hours Sunday for an Air France flight to Paris as part of a group headed to a study-abroad program through Kent State University.

“I hate traveling in the first place, so this is like kind of a nightmare,” she said.

Another student, Bekah Baker, propped herself against a pillar at the airport with a laptop. By midafternoon, she had been sitting in the same spot for about five hours, and her delayed flight was not scheduled to leave for another six.

The international gates at Terminal 1 and Terminal 4 were nearly paralyzed during the weekend. On Saturday evening, international flights bound for Terminal 1 were blocked from arriving.

Then on Sunday, the broken water main sent people fleeing in a partial evacuation and left bags and suitcases in water. Entire areas of the terminal, including the heavily used bathrooms at both ends of the ground floor waiting area, were cordoned off. Outside, the taxi stand was shut down while the traffic lanes closest to the terminal were cleared.

“You would think with water mains breaking all over town they would have a contingency plan,” said Michael Rossiter, 54, of Jersey City. “A couple of guys with squeegees doesn’t seem to do the job.”

As Mr. Rossiter waited, water spread across the terminal floor, flooding a diner and newsstand while terminal employees, state troopers and others rushed to sop up water with wide-brushed mops.

Mr. Rossiter said he and his family “just want to get home — and now this.”

Content originally published on https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/07/nyregion/kennedy-airport.html by PATRICK McGEEHAN and WINNIE HU