On Saturday morning three flights left their airports in Europe destined for JFK. They would all arrive early afternoon in New York City, offload a few hundred passengers and then return to Frankfurt, Munich and Vienna with their new passengers and also with crew stranded in NYC the past couple days because of the blizzard. After a couple hours in the air each of the three flights – LH400, LH410 and OS87 – returned home. They cannot complete the trip today because some 48 hours after the snow stopped falling JFK airport is still struggling to recover from the storm.
Free at last! After a 14-hour flight from Beijing, and another 7-hours stranded on the @JFKairport TarMac, passengers aboard @airchina Flight #CA989 are deplaning. The next concern is lengthy customs lines. Our flight was just one of many that landed, but without a gate assigned pic.twitter.com/hzO1iUSPx0
— Jenni Monet (@jennimonet) January 6, 2018
JFK had dozens of inbound flights divert on Thursday. The vast majority of them chose to complete the trip on Friday, after the crew had sufficient rest. And so, around 5pm, just as the evening rush was gearing up, a whole bunch of extra planes showed up in JFK. The runways were able to handle the aircraft reasonably well. The taxiways, even with a few still out of service, did okay, too. The terminals, however, were a disaster. The problems continued overnight as aircraft waited their turn for a gate. And waited. And waited.
— Flightradar24 (@flightradar24) January 6, 2018
Only a small handful of flights chose to bail, either prior to diverting or after their diversion. Norwegian sent its planes back to Europe empty rather than try to finish the flights to JFK. That helped the airline get its own operations back on track and also helped improve the debacle that is T1 at JFK. That’s hard to believe given that T1 is where those three flights were headed today before turning around because they realized no gates would be available. The Korean Airlines A380 waited roughly 5 hours for a gate at T1 on Friday night. Other aircraft waited many hours to get to other terminals as well.
One of the quirks of JFK’s operations is that each terminal is run by a separate entity. If T1 is full and T7 has space a plane cannot simply pull in for a couple hours and unload there. But unless someone makes an official call saying a terminal is not accepting additional inbound aircraft ATC will continue to let them arrive. And then try to figure out where to park them for hours at a time while they await gates. That’s bad news for everyone, especially as the diverted planes started to arrive on Friday night.
Update: About an hour after I posted this (and 30ish hours too late) the Port Authority finally got its act together and implemented restrictions on inbound flights planning to park at Terminals 1, 4 & 7. That should help clear the backlog out. Just gotta hope no riots break out in the terminals; passengers are getting VERY testy after 3 days in JFK.
The Port Authority is working diligently with the FAA, airlines, and individual terminal operators to limit the arrival of flights into JFK Airport until there are adequate gates available to handle the backlog of flights due to recovery of flight schedules after Thursday’s storm
— Kennedy Airport. Wear a Face Covering. (@JFKairport) January 6, 2018
— Jason Rabinowitz (@AirlineFlyer) January 6, 2018
And so the question arises: Is it better to delay and eventually complete the flight or to cancel at the diversion point? And keep in mind that by the time this decision had to be made the airlines knew that the airport would be closed overnight and that it would be crowded on Friday with the regular operations.
Not all flights could give up so easily, of course. An Emirates A380 in Pittsburg or the many planes that landed at O’Hare need to get their passengers to New York City eventually. But what about the Singapore Airlines A380 that went to Stewart? The carrier rescheduled that return to Frankfurt and Singapore as SQ9025, departing Friday night instead of Thursday. It eventually took flight on Saturday morning at 8:15am, flying the spectacularly rare eastbound daytime flight from NYC to Frankfurt.
Was it worth the additional delay and disruption to JFK operations to have the plane come in, fill up with passengers and eventually fly out so many hours late? Would the airline, airport and passengers all have been better suited had SQ cancelled the flight and rebooked travelers on other flights?
Emirates unloaded its A380 at Dulles and transported the passengers by bus to New York City. It also chose to fly the A380 in and load up with the Dubai-bound travelers rather than abort the trip and reset.
Continued record high load factors make such rebookings challenging at best. All the more so when every airline is affected by similar cancellations and needs to get its customers handled before accepting those from other carriers. And even if they could rebook the passengers that is an expensive proposition. So is flying an empty plane halfway around the world.
Still, at some point the flights that cannot reasonably operate have to be canceled. Lufthansa and Austrian did precisely that. No matter what it sucks for many passengers but getting operations back to normal flow as quickly as possible rather than slowly digging out seems like a more efficient solution for the overall system.
Oh, and adding insult to injury, China Southern and Kuwait Air planes clipped each other last night at JFK. That certainly didn’t help operations.
The #PAPD Aircraft Rescue Fire Fighter Unit (ARFF) responded to Terminal 4, JFK, last night; a China Southern 777's wing tip struck the tail end of a Kuwait Airways 777 causing damage to both aircraft. #PAPDPROTECTSNYNJ pic.twitter.com/1g2isyyHD4
— Port Authority PBA (@PAPD911) January 6, 2018
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