A behind-the-scenes look at Hartsfield-Jackson’s blackout

massive 11-hour blackout paralyzed flights at the world’s busiest airport on Sunday Dec. 17, causing confusion and chaos for passengers stuck in the terminal. Behind the scenes, officials spent hours trying to figure out what the problem was and coordinating a response.

Here’s a brief timeline from the day of the blackout:

12:49 p.m. An e-mail alert to management at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport addressed a suspicious burning smell:

“UPDATED -Incident Detail: The burning smell incident has cleared. AFD [Atlanta Fire Department] advised no sign of smoke or fire. Normal operations have resumed.”

1:10 p.m. Kofi Smith, CEO of the Atlanta Airlines Terminal Corp., a private airline cooperative, sent an email: “All, We have a major power outage at the airport affecting many parts of the airport.”

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1:46 p.m. An alert said the Atlanta fire department had responded to a smell of smoke and fire coming from the Georgia Power switch room on Concourse E, with the fire department and Georgia Power “assessing the situation.”

1:53 p.m. Smith e-mailed airline executives at Delta, American and United and a deputy general manager at Hartsfield-Jackson saying he was five minutes away from the airport. 

4:52 p.m. Smith e-mailed from inside a utility tunnel and said: “We have located the fire. My signal is very bad in these tunnels. I am communicating with Georgia Power to get us back up.”

6:10 p.m. Smith e-mailed that power on international Concourse F was coming back on, and the rest of the airport would be back up and operational by midnight.

To read more about what airport and airline officials were doing while passengers sat in the dark terminal, get the full story on

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