ATLANTA (CBSLA/AP) — A sudden power outage brought the world’s busiest airport to a standstill Sunday, grounding more than 1,000 flights in Atlanta just days before the start of the Christmas travel rush. Hours after the blackout began, authorities announced that electricity would be restored at the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport by midnight.
Passengers at the airport were left in the dark when the lights went out at around 1 p.m. The outage halted all outgoing flights, and arriving planes were held on the ground at their point of departure. International flights were being diverted, officials said.
The outage in Atlanta caused a ripple effect of travel delays and long waits at airports like LAX. And no one, and we mean no one, was in the mood to sing “The Night The Lights Went Out In Georgia.”
KCAL9’s Laurie Perez spoke to those stranded on the ground in Los Angeles.
“The – something flight was cancelled and they said we’d get on the four, then the 4-something flight was cancelled and then all the flights were cancelled,” said Marnica McMichael.
One of CBS2/KCAL9’s writers, Sean Lee, was also stranded trying to get back to Los Angeles.
“It was eerie,” she said, “the luggage carousels were all still and people were sitting on them, again, very chaotic. A lot of people walking out trying to get out and just figure out what was going on.”
Some passengers in LA were given travel vouchers for their suffering but in many cases it wasn’t clear where they would use them.
“They gave us a discount voucher for a local hotel but all the hotels seem to be booked. So we have a discount coupon,” said Jim McElroy.
Many of the passengers were trying to keep in the holiday spirit and Perez talked to one who was keeping her sense of humor as well.
“The problem,” said Amanda Penley, “is that all of us have our baggage on the flight. So then that’s been why I’ve been living here now. I am now a part of LAX.”
Perez said, “You’re like that Tom Hanks movie.” And Penley replied, “Yes, I’m actually living out my terminal dreams.”
Back in Atlanta, Delta passenger Emilia Duca, 32, was on her way to Wisconsin from Bogota, Colombia, when she got stuck in the land of peaches. She said police made passengers who were in the baggage-claim area move to a higher floor. She said restaurants and shops were closed. Vending machines weren’t working.
“A lot of people are arriving, and no one is going out. No one is saying anything official. We are stuck here,” she said. “It’s a nightmare.”
Delta, with its biggest hub operation in Atlanta, was hardest hit. By evening, Delta had already cancelled almost 800 Sunday flights and another 250 on 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.
“Tomorrow is going to be a long and difficult day for everybody,” Mann said.
One bit of good news, according to Mann: Delta has more spare planes and available crews in Atlanta than anywhere else, which will help it to recover.
Still, when flights at Atlanta were grounded for most of one day last spring, it took Delta five days — and about 4,000 cancelled flights — before it fully recovered.
That wasn’t enough to comfort Jeff Smith, 46, of Pittsburgh, who ended up stuck in a plane on the tarmac for three hours after it landed.
“This is the worst experience I’ve ever had at an airport,” he said.
The Atlanta airport serves an average of 275,000 passengers daily, according to its website. Nearly 2,500 planes arrive and depart each day.
Georgia Power said late Sunday they believe a fire in an underground electrical facility might have caused the outage.
(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)