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JFK airport chaos during snowstorm ‘unacceptable,’ investigation to take months, officials say

Officials outlined interim measures to help prevent a similar situation from happening in the future.

Some 100 bags still have yet to reach

Some 100 bags still have yet to reach their rightful owner after the snarling delays at John F. Kennedy Airport earlier this month. Photo Credit: Uli Seit

Port Authority officials outlined several interim measures Thursday designed to prevent the type of chaos that stranded passengers and bogged down baggage at Kennedy Airport a few weeks ago, adding that a formal investigation would take months.

The international hub has struggled to recover from the snowstorm earlier this month after 94 flights were canceled, baggage claim machines froze, two planes clipped each other, and a water main broke flooding Terminal 4 with three inches of standing water.

About 100 bags still have not been returned as of Thursday afternoon, mostly from China Air flights, according to the Port Authority.

“What happened was completely unacceptable and cannot be allowed to happen again. We are committed to fixing it,” said the agency’s executive director Rick Cotton, who apologized for the breakdowns. “We believe these interim initial steps are critically important.”

Cotten said the interim measures include activating the Emergency Operations Center before the arrival of significant storms. This would ensure the sharing of information between terminal operators and airlines, as well as making sure updated information gets to customers. The EOC would also issue formal notifications to terminal operators to help track incoming flight numbers, ensuring that arriving flights are assigned a gate.

Cotton said terminal operators will be forced to consult Port Authority if a plane will have to sit for more than 90 minutes after its scheduled landing. If a gate is not available, then authorities will “promptly” determine if passengers should be deplaned and bused to a terminal.

He also directed baggage handlers to develop long-term contingency plans, and told terminal operators to examine plumbing components for weatherproofing, in light of the water main break.

Former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who was tapped last week to lead the investigation into the breakdowns, said Thursday he expects to deliver his report between 90 and 120 days from now.

“We will leave no stone unturned. We will get to the bottom of this,” LaHood said. “And our recommendations, I think, will go a long way to making sure that when there’s a major snowstorm, or other storm in the region, this will not happen again.”

LaHood said he plans to speak with passengers, the FAA, airlines and terminal operators.

“I know this is a very, very frustrating situation, and my message would be that the Port Authority understands that a huge, big mess has occurred and they’re about to try to get it fixed. I guess my message would be: help is on the way,” he said. “We’ll figure out what the problem is, but more importantly we’re going to recommend solutions.”

While LaHood’s report will take several months, Cotton said the Port Authority is “not waiting to take action.”

“We simply have to make sure that JFK performs better,” he said. “Much better.”

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