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After 11-hour outage, power restored to world’s busiest airport

MONDAY UPDATE: For more on the aftermath of the Atlanta airport power outage, follow Monday’s live updates here and see answers to frequently-asked questions.

Mayor Kasim Reed update: ‘We’re going to fix this problem’ at airport

11:55 P.M. UPDATE: Power has been restored to all of Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. 

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11:20 P.M. UPDATE: Power has been restored to the airport’s Atrium and Concourses T, A and B. 

10:30 P.M. UPDATE: Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed says all passengers have been allowed to get off planes that have been stranded for hours. 

9:45 P.M. UPDATE: Delta Air Lines cancels 300 flights on Monday.

9 P.M. UPDATE: Mayor Kasim Reed started off an evening news conference with an apology.

“First and most importantly, I was to express my sincere apologies to the thousands of passengers whose day has been disrupted in this manner,” he said. “We certainly understand that the outage has caused frustration and anger, and we’re doing everything that we can to get folks back home right away.”

Reed said the outage started shortly after 1 p.m., at one of the three Georgia Power substations at the airport. It was caused by an electrical fire that started some time between 12:30 and 12:45 p.m.

8:30 P.M. UPDATE: The Federal Aviation Administration will retain normal staffing in the Air Traffic Control Tower at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport as the airport is open and accepting general aviation and cargo operations. Air traffic controllers also will be ready to handle commercial flights as soon as they resume.

8:25 P.M. UPDATE: Mayor Kasim Reed will hold a press conference at 8:30 at the Airport Emergency Operations Center along with Georgia Power CEO Paul Bowers, Police Chief Erika Shields and airport General Manager Roosevelt Council about the power outage at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and the multi-agency, coordinated response effort.


7:40 P.M. UPDATE: Mayor Kasim Reed has tweeted: Power at Concourse F is back on. If you are in another concourse, please remain there. We have an additional update on when full power will be restored from.

Nearly six hours after a power outage began at Hartsfield-Jackson international Airport, officials said a fire likely caused the outage.

But while a fire caused extensive damage to an underground electrical facility, the cause is still not confirmed, officials with Georgia Power said.


Atlanta police sent extra officers to help.

“We are aware of the situation and are assisting with crowd control and helping to manage traffic around the airport,” police spokeswoman Officer Lisa Bender said.

All flights were canceled and baggage is being held in a secure area for pickup in the future, Rick Crotts, an Atlanta Journal-Constitution editor who was stuck on a plane for hours, said.

Camp Creek Parkway was also shut down and Atlanta police discouraged anyone from heading toward the airport, but MARTA service wasn’t affected by the outage.

Atlanta airport power outage: How to get to and from Hartsfield-Jackson using MARTA

Inside the airport, a swirling mass of people waited in an aimless pattern trying to get cellphone signals in a darkening airport as passengers sat stranded in parked planes on the tarmac.

The terminals were pitch black and people had to use cellphones to light their path. People in wheelchairs had to be carried down stopped escalators and stairwells. 

Olivia Dorfman described to The AJC by phone what she witnessed in Concourse D when the power went out. 

“Maybe 10 minutes later a buzzer went off in the background ... and every so often bright lights flash in the ceiling,” Dorfman said.

Near the D9A gate, she said smoke filled the area and at different times airport workers tried to herd passengers toward the smoky area and away from it.

“This has been very bizarre,” she said. “No one seems to know what they’re doing.”

Photos: Power outage paralyzes Atlanta airport

After at least one other woman said she wouldn’t stand in the area that smelled of acrid smoke like from an electrical fire because she suffers from asthma. She and others then walked back toward the gate, Dorfman said. 

“A man is just yelling, ‘Go this way,’” Dorfman said. 

She said the stores weren’t able to sell water or items because of the power outage.

“It’s unbelievable; this is the busiest airport,” Dorfman said.

Malou Cadavillo and her 16-month-old granddaughter sat in the dark at Hartsfield-Jackson on a motionless luggage carousel, waiting. Her grandchild’s car seat looked like it would never arrive. 

She described her family’s journey from the gate where they arrived in the afternoon to the terminal as a scary odyssey. They walked through the dark corridor between concourses, guided by the lights of other people’s cellphones, as smoke poured in from some unknown source.

Her grandsons, 7 and 11, were uneasy. “I hope there’s no monsters down here,” said one. 

Her son-in-law Michael Rances said emergency preparedness at the airport was unsatisfactory. “There was nobody there to tell you what to do,” he said. 

Nearby a group of Delta pilots stood conferring. 

“This is gonna take hours,” said one. “Days,” said another. 

Crotts, who was aboard Flight 3392 that arrived at the airport at 1:31 p.m., waited among passengers aboard the plane on the tarmac. 

A flight parked at the airport lets passengers off by ladder. (Credit: Rick Crotts / Rickie.Crotts@AJC.com)

It took more than two hours for crews to bring a ladder and get people off the plane, he said.

John Reetz, a passenger on Flight 5297, said his was one of more than 40 planes parked on the tarmac, waiting for power to be restored.

At first, the pilot told passengers there was no estimate on when the power would be restored, Reetz said in an email.

At the time, passengers were in a generally good mood, but at least one joked that he didn’t have to use the restroom until he saw a line. That was only after 45 minutes, Reetz said. 

Later, an officer onboard the flight told passengers, "’This looks like it's going to be a longer process now instead of a shorter one,’” Reetz said. “We're going to be here for a while unfortunately." 

Ina Bond, 72, was at her wit’s end after having been stranded on the tarmac for three hours.

“With water and pretzels and a nasty bathroom,” she said.

Looking for a taxi to find a hotel to spend the night after her connecting flight to Delray Beach, Fla., was canceled, she could get no information from airport officials. “I passed a whole line of policemen, and none of them could tell me anything.” 

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