Chaos ensued on Sunday after the official Twitter account for America's busiest airport declared a power outage. Flights at Atlanta's airport, Hartsfield-Jackson International, have been grounded for the foreseeable future, and this could mean huge delays for flights on Sunday and beyond.
The power outage was described by travelers as absolute chaos. "Literal pandemonium at the @ATLairport," a traveler named Ciara Leilani tweeted on Sunday. "Baggage claim stuck, passengers can go nowhere! Which means traffic can't either. [Georgia Bureau of Investigation] and other law enforcement on site now. Talk about delays."
In the face of the outage, the Federal Aviation Authority declared a ground stop for the arrival flights. This means flights to Atlanta will have to wait at their departure points until power is restored. An FAA official tweeted on Sunday:
The #FAA has put in a ground stop for flights headed to @ATLairport due to a power outage affecting the airport terminals. The FAA Tower can operate normally, however, departures are delayed because airport equipment in the terminals is not working.
For international arrivals, the United States Customs and Border Protection declared diversion plans, tweeting:
Due to #PowerOutage at @ATLairport diversion plan for International arriving flights continues. This means diverted International flights will land at other airports. #Atlairport
So far, neither airport nor federal authorities have pointed to the source of the breakdown in power.
A full or partial power outage in any scenario is rarely, if ever, enjoyed. However, in the case of a hectic and crowded area like an airport, a power outage can wreak havoc on multiple fronts. From domestic and international flights stalled and patchy internal communication to escalators and elevators suddenly shutting down, a power outage is very much the opposite of fun.
For an airport like Atlanta's, no electricity running through "several areas" can mean a ripple effect of chaos. If you've never been to there, consider the following series of facts: an average of 275,000 passengers fly through the airport every day; more than 63,000 employees work there; there is non-stop service for more than 60 international locations in more than 45 countries; there are 167 domestic gates; and the airport itself hosts an average of about 2,500 flights per day.
If you're a passenger arriving at or departing Hartsfield-Jackson, the airport recommends that you check on your relevant flight's social media account for updates. A statement released by the airport recommends:
[P]assengers, employees, and stakeholders [to] follow the airport's Twitter feed (@ATLAirport) for more information. Passengers are also directed to follow their individual airlines' social media channels for flight information.
You can also check the FAA's website for updates. It can give you an approximate account of how long a delay could be and what may be causing it. But just like the airport's official statement, the FAA, too, recommends that you keep tabs on your relevant flight's social media account. These social media channels will keep you updated on the course of your flight, where it may be diverted if you're international, or how long it may remain grounded. Plus, checking Twitter's #ATLAirport hashtag can give you an idea of on-the-ground developments through updates from verified authorities.
Perhaps the most important thing to remember is that this isn't the first time that a power outage hit an airport. It's a pain, yes, but it's also normal. In 2016, New York's famously-crowded John F. Kennedy International Airport lost power — as a result, you can imagine the disturbance it caused. Baggage screening came to a halt, elevators and escalators stopped running, and of course, flights were delayed. The power was out for several hours, but was ultimately restored; it was reported that the electricity went out due to frequent storms during that August.
Hopefully, in Atlanta's case too, the reason is nothing to raise eyebrows at.