New York City

Former Obama Transportation Secretary to Run Investigation Into JFK Fiasco as Lost Luggage Complaints Pile Up

What to Know

  • About 5,000 bags still haven't been reunited with their owners following the weekend's chaos at JFK airport, sources say
  • It comes a day after images obtained to News 4 show hundreds of bags sitting in the snow under a ramp at the airport
  • Now the Port Authority says former Obama transportation secretary Ray LaHood will lead an investigation into the airport meltdown

Former Obama transportation secretary Ray LaHood will lead an investigation into the meltdown at John F. Kennedy International Airport following last week's winter storm, the Port Authority announced Wednesday. 

LaHood, who's now a senior policy advisor at global law firm DLA Piper, will study everything that led to the fiasco and make recommendations about what needs to be fixed, according to Port Authority Executive Director Rick Cotton. 

The chaos started Thursday, when a winter storm hit New York amid unusually cold weather. Some terminal gates got tied up, leading to a backlog of international flights trying to get in and out. The freezing temperatures impacted equipment.

Then a water main burst and flooded a terminal Sunday.

"We are committed to understanding where and why failures occurred, and making whatever changes are necessary to assure these failures never happen again," said Cotton.

LaHood, who worked under former President Barack Obama from 2009 to 2013, will examine how Kennedy Airport prepared for the storm that walloped the city with over a foot of snow; how it handled closure and re-opening; how it dealt with Sunday's water leak; and how it handled the thousands of pieces of luggage that got separated from their owners during the chaos. 

As of Wednesday afternoon, about 5,000 bags left at JFK Airport still haven't been returned to their rightful owners, two sources familiar with the situation told News 4. At the height of last weekend's dysfunction, the airport had tens of thousands of bags that had been separated from its owners, according to the sources. 

Dozens of frustrated travelers who are still missing their luggage have contacted News 4 after the station reported exclusively that there were dozens -- possibly hundreds -- of bags still piled underneath a terminal ramp Tuesday, alongside the snow. 

"It's quite crazy there's no plan B," said Dan M. Lee of Rockaway Park, whose luggage was lost by Virgin America after he returned from the UK. "In event of an emergency, that's no way to store bags." 

"How is this OK? Why aren't there people working 24/7 to get their bags back?" said Christie Vonk, who got a stranger's bag returned to her instead of her own after flying back from Atlanta on Sunday. 

The Port Authority said in a statement Wednesday afternoon that it "shared the public's outrage and has directed the airlines to have all bags out of JFK and on their way to customers by day's end. "

"This unacceptable delay has inconvenienced too many travelers and we continue to work with the airlines to aggressively address the situation and provide assistance as needed," the Port Authority added.

There did appear to be activity at the Queens location of Business Express Airlines, the company contracted by Delta to return hundreds of bags, Chopper 4 over the area showed late Wednesday afternoon. News 4 cameras also on the ground showed vans being loaded with the bags, though no workers wanted to speak with the reporter. 

Delta said in a statement Wednesday, "Delta is delivering bags to customers and expects to reutrn its baggage operation to normal levels tonight." 

But the airline made similar statements Tuesday.

Sources said about 3,800 of the missing bags were on Delta flights, and that the airline had returned an additional 4,000 on Tuesday. Another 800 bags belonged to Air China customers. That airline was not immediately available for comment. 

JetBlue, which operates out of Terminal 5 at JFK, says it wasn't impacted to the same degree as other terminals; there are about 100 bags being held for pickup or delivery. On Wednesday, it received about 60 bags from international partner carriers at JFK that the airline is working to reunite with customers who connected on JetBlue routes. 

JFKAIT, which operates Terminal 4, was not available for comment on Wednesday. 

Equally frustrating for travelers is the lack of communication and updates from the airlines. 

"When you try to call or email, you can't get in touch with anyone," said Haley Thompson, a student at Rosemont College in Pennsylvania. "Seems like they abandoned all their passengers." 

An exasperated Vonk said, "Every time I call, it's the same, 'We're sorry, this is hard on us, too.' They're getting paid to deal with this. I paid money to deal with this." 

One man in the Hamilton Heights section of Manhattan, Nano Chlimon, had to go days without his wheelchair, after sitting and waiting for it for hours in the airport, only to be told it wasn't even on the plane. It finally arrived at his home Wednesday evening. 

"Now I'm good, but before I was calling and calling, and nobody answered -- two days in a row, yesterday and today," he told News 4. 

Mary McAnelly in Austin, Texas, says the lesson she has learned is "anything important, put into your carry-on." 

Are you in the tri-state area and still missing luggage from JFK? Please fill out the lost luggage survey in this article (above) and contact us at

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