Storms strand thousands overnight at Hartsfield-Jackson airport

Airlines continue to struggle with disruptions, while the busy Fourth of July weekend approaches.

Credit: Kelly Yamanouchi

Credit: Kelly Yamanouchi

Thousands of travelers were stranded at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport overnight after thunderstorms caused mass flight cancellations Sunday evening in Atlanta and in the Northeast.

More than 70 flights that were supposed to depart from Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport on Sunday were canceled, and another 40 flights due to arrive at the Atlanta airport were canceled Sunday, according to

Credit: Kelly Yamanouchi

icon to expand image

Credit: Kelly Yamanouchi

After their flights were canceled, travelers stuck in Atlanta slept overnight at the airport in seats in the gate areas and along the floor in the walkways of the Plane Train tunnel.

Long lines of passengers waiting for customer service stretched down the concourse.

Credit: Kelly Yamanouchi

icon to expand image

Credit: Kelly Yamanouchi

Other travelers trying to return home to Atlanta had their flights diverted due to the storm.

Courtney Akinosho, who lives in Lawrenceville, was flying back from a vacation in Panama for her birthday when her Delta Air Lines flight was diverted Sunday night to Savannah.

She said passengers were told that there weren’t enough rental cars or hotel rooms available, and she ended up sleeping on a bench at the airport.

“It’s absolutely horrendous,” Akinosho said, adding that she needs to know when she get back home to her children, who have been staying with their father, and to handle other obligations.

“There has to be some kind of plan in place to expect some hiccups because of the weather this time of year,” Akinosho said. “I see people with small children pushing strollers — could you imagine, literally just being stranded here?”

Storms also drove hundreds of flight cancellations Sunday at Newark Liberty International Airport, a hub for United Airlines, and at New York’s LaGuardia Airport.

United canceled a total of 333 flights on Sunday, while Atlanta-based Delta canceled 179 flights, according to FlightAware data.

The Federal Aviation Administration also had to pause departures to Washington, D.C.-area airports for a period on Sunday to make repairs to a communications system at the Potomac Terminal Radar Approach Control facility.

Cancellations are continuing Monday, with more than 100 flights canceled at Hartsfield-Jackson, according to FlightAware. Across the country, Delta canceled more than 150 flights.

The flight disruptions come as airlines prepare for a record numbers of travelers expected to take to the skies for the Fourth of July holiday travel period, which starts this Friday.

AAA said it expects a record 4.17 million people across the country will fly over the Independence Day travel period, surpassing the previous record of 3.91 million people who traveled in 2019 for the July 4th weekend.

In Georgia, about 124,463 people are expected to fly for the Fourth of July travel period, up 12,000 from last year.

Airlines have been working to avoid another summer of mass flight disruptions like last year, but there are clearly already signs of problems.

The FAA acknowledged earlier this year that it still has air traffic controller staffing shortfalls and airlines have trimmed flights, with the hope of allowing some operational stability.

A key area of concern is New York, where the FAA projected delays would increase by 45% this summer compared to summer 2022.

Another looming issue is a deadline for airlines to equip their planes to prepare for an expansion of 5G mobile technology. The expansion of 5G could interfere with the instruments on some airplanes, so carriers have a July 1 deadline to upgrade certain equipment on plane to avoid potential interference from 5G signals from airports.

Delta said it has been working to upgrade equipment by the July 1 deadline, but its supplier said roadblocks in its manufacturing supply chain meant it would not have enough radio altimeters by the deadline. About 190 Delta narrow-body planes will not be upgraded by July 1, out of its total mainline fleet of 900 planes.

“What this means for Delta is that some of our aircraft will have more restrictions for operations in inclement weather,” Delta said in a written statement. The airline said it will move aircraft away from airports that will have weather disruptions to mitigate delays. “Safety of flight will never be in question.”

Delta said it expects minimal operational impact and is “working to insulate any additional delays from our customers.”

About the Author