John F. Kennedy International Airport’s Terminal 4 was flooded after a water main broke on Sunday afternoon, triggering a partial evacuation and marking the third straight day of chaos at the New York travel hub following last week’s “bomb cyclone” winter storm. The flooding struck the terminal’s baggage-claim area just after 1:30 p.m., covering the floor with at least a few inches of water, as seen in videos shared on social media:
It’s not yet clear what caused the water main to break, but the wet bags and resulting flight delays — including a shutdown of international flights to Terminal 4 — were just the latest misfortune to strike JFK passengers over the past three days.
On Saturday, the airport was plagued with enormous delays due to what the Port Authority ultimately called “a cascading series of issues” experienced by airlines and terminal operators as a result of Saturday’s extreme cold and the “ongoing recovery” from last week’s big winter storm. Thursday’s “bomb cyclone” had forced a temporary suspension of flights at JFK, many of which were rescheduled for the weekend. That additional flight volume, in concert with the extremely cold weather, clearly overwhelmed the airport. Three-hundred-and-fifty flights were cancelled on Friday, as well as another 94 on Saturday, along with 17 flights that had to be diverted.
The subsequent problems included “frozen equipment breakdowns, difficulties in baggage handling, staff shortages, and heavier than typical passenger loads,” according to the Port Authority. There was also an accident involving one passenger jet clipping another early Saturday morning — though no one was injured in the collision.
Amid the chaos on Saturday, countless passengers were stuck on planes on the tarmac or held up waiting for flights or their bags in the terminals for hours on end. Some baggage-claim areas were swamped with luggage, in what one Instagram user aptly referred to as the “baggageapocalypse”:
Many passengers ended up stuck at the airport for 12 hours or more. International arrivals to Terminals 1 and 4 were particularly hard-hit, stranding many passengers in their planes; buses eventually had to be used to get people off of 25 planes.
According to a witness who spoke with the Daily News, one flight cancellation led to a “near riot” among angry passengers in Terminal 4 on Saturday night — to the point that police had to be called in. Other passengers, sharing their anger with local news organizations or on social media, also blasted the lack of information from airlines and airport officials as the dysfunction and misery continued.
The Port Authority said on Sunday that the airport’s runways and taxiways were “fully operational” following Saturday’s problems, but that the airlines themselves were still in “recovery mode,” as the cold weather was still leading to equipment failures and operational slowdowns. Indeed, the delays reportedly continued, and that was before the water main broke in Terminal 4. As of 1:00 p.m., there were already 20 canceled departing flights and another 24 canceled arriving flights (with 128 flights delayed) — and it undoubtedly got worse after that.
New York’s other airports, LaGuardia and Newark Liberty, didn’t seem to encounter anywhere near the same scale of problems over the weekend, and Senator Chuck Schumer is now calling for a “thorough review” of what went wrong at JFK. In the meantime, it’s not yet clear when operations will get back to normal at the airport, but temperatures are forecast to rise over the coming week, eliminating at least one reason for the trouble.