The bomb cyclone on Jan. 4 didn’t just drop a lot of snow and lower temperatures on the region — it caused chaos at JFK Airport. Hundreds of flights were canceled, a lack of available gates following the storm caused passengers to wait hours to deplane, thousands of fliers were separated from their luggage and the main international terminal temporarily closed after the cold caused a water pipe to burst.
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which manages the airport, has tapped former U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood to conduct an investigation into what exactly went wrong.
“The investigation begins today. We have a team of people that will look at everything, talk to everyone and figure out why things happened the way they did and why certain things didn’t happen the way they were supposed to,” LaHood said at a Thursday press conference.
The investigation is expected to take between 90 and 120 days, according to LaHood, but in the meantime, the Port Authority has enacted a series of interim actions meant to ensure the airport runs smoothly.
“Future storms will come, and soon,” said Port Authority Executive Director Rick Cotton. “We simply have to assure that JFK Airport performs better, much better, starting now.”
Interim measures include establishing a JFK Emergency Operations Center prior to the start of any “significant predicted storm.” This center, located on airport grounds, will operate 24/7 during a storm and the following recovery period and serve to facilitate better communication and collaboration between terminal operators, airlines and other key stakeholders.
The center will also work to ease gate wait times, coordinating with terminal operators “to ensure that all inbound flights are assigned a gate or arrival location where passengers can deplane by stairs and be bussed to the terminal,” Cotton said.
If the estimated time for passengers to deplane is more than 90 minutes after their flight has touched down, the terminal operators will be required to immediately consult Port Authority to find an alternate location.
Following the Jan. 4 storm, passengers reported waiting up to five hours after landing for their planes to reach a gate so they could deboard.
As of Wednesday, a “couple hundred” bags at JFK have still not been reunited with their owners, officials said.
Cotton called the baggage situation “unconscionable” and said officials are working to avoid this from happening again in the future, though he blamed in part an “antiquated” JFK for the backup.
“This system is broken… there’s not enough technology involved at JFK,” he said. “Part of the problem is facilities at JFK are simply out of date and part of the problem is there were organizations not staffed enough to carry out what they did.”