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Atlanta airport loses power, trapping travelers in planes and terminals

ATLANTA — Flying home for the holidays was more of a headache than usual for those traveling through the Atlanta airport on Sunday.

Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta — the busiest airport in the world — lost power shortly after 1 p.m. ET on Sunday reportedly leaving some passengers trapped in planes and inside the airport terminals.

By early evening, the airport had canceled 1,142 flights and delayed 250, according to FlightAware.com.

The airport confirmed the outage on Twitter, and the Federal Aviation Administration said it put a ground stop in place, slowing or halting inbound air traffic.


“The FAA tower can operate normally, however, departures are delayed because airport equipment in the terminals is not working,” the federal agency said in a statement.

Georgia Power said in a statement Sunday evening that “the issue may have involved a fire which caused extensive damage in a Georgia Power underground electrical facility.”

The airport said power had been restored to one of its six concourses around 7:30 p.m., about seven hours after the initial outage, and Georgia Power said it expects to have power fully restored to the airport by midnight.

Fire crews were able to extinguish the fire and had begun assessing damage and beginning repairs, but they had not yet been able to ascertain the cause of the blaze, the utility said.

Airport officials said a large portion of the facility had been affected and that repair teams had been working to address the situation since around 1:30 p.m. ET.

Image: Passengers sit stranded at the Atlanta airport, Dec. 17, 2017.
Passengers sit stranded at the Atlanta airport, Dec. 17, 2017. Gant Laborde

Delta airlines, which is headquartered in Atlanta, said it had canceled approximately 900 mainline and Delta Connection flights. Passengers should check the status of their flights, the airline said.

“Pending full resumption of power, Delta anticipates a near-full schedule Monday in Atlanta, though some delays and cancellations can be expected,” the airline said on its website.

The airline said it would issue a waiver to those who were travelling through Atlanta with the airline on Dec. 17 or 18. The airline also said it would give travelers a refund if they would like to cancel their trip because their flight was cancelled or delayed more than 90 minutes.

Those arriving for their flights were met with long lines and a pitch dark airport. No escalators, elevators or information screens were operational.

Brian Moote, 36, the morning host of an Atlanta radio show, said he was returning home on a flight from Dallas when the power went out in the airport. Moote said he and his fellow passengers had been stuck in their plane on the tarmac for nearly six hours, beginning at around 12:30 p.m. ET,

Image: Passengers wait in line at the Atlanta airport, Dec. 17, 2017.
Passengers wait in line at the Atlanta airport, Dec. 17, 2017. Demi Douglas / NBC News

The pilot warned passengers that the power could be out until 11 p.m. ET, Moote told NBC News over the phone.

“People are being really calm and cool about it just because we realize it’s not the airline’s fault,” he said. “But the babies are getting restless. We don’t have any food; nobody has eaten. They’re trying to get us water.”

Moote said that he had been told the passengers would be removed from the plane soon, but the airport had a limited number of stair cars and needed buses, so there wasn’t a clear timetable.

“It’s just a complete catastrophe in their ability to evacuate an airport,” Moote said. “If this is another type of disaster, we’d just be toast.”

According to WXIA, the outage reached the entire airport and affected the train connecting the terminals.

Wifi and cell service also weren’t fully operational, WXIA reported.

Image: The Atlanta's airport is pictured during the power outage, in Atlanta
The Atlanta’s airport is pictured during the power outage, in Atlanta, U.S., December 17, 2017 in this picture obtained from social media. Reuters

According to the airport, Hartsfield-Jackson serves approximately 275,000 passengers and averages 2,500 flight arrivals and departures every day.

Demi Douglas reported from Atlanta, Georgia, and Phil McCausland reported from New York City.

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