New York City

JFK Terminal Flooded Due to Water Pipe Break, Compounding Days-Long ‘Meltdown'

Tempers have flared at JFK amid days of delays and unforeseen problems that all started when last week's blizzard shut down the airport Thursday

What to Know

  • Long waits on the tarmac and at baggage claim extended to a third day at JFK airport, where travelers have described a nightmarish few days
  • A water pipe break, a plane collision and a man allegedly carrying a loaded gun created a "meltdown" after a blizzard caused pileup delays
  • The airport is experiencing a days-long backlog at gates after Thursday's monster blizzard temporarily shut down the airport

A water pipe break flooded a terminal at JFK airport on Sunday, officials said, compounding problems for travelers on the third straight day of bitter cold, system failures, delays and chaos.

The Port Authority, which manages the airport, said a water pipe break flooded the arrivals hall at Terminal 4 just before 2 p.m. and that the authority is opening an investigation into the cause. 

"What happened at JFK Airport is unacceptable, and travelers expect and deserve better," saide Port Authority Executive Director Rick Cotton. "While the water pipe break that occurred appears to be weather-related, we have launched an investigation into the incident to determine exactly what occurred and why an internal pipe was not weather protected and whether any other failures contributed to this disruption."

Port Authority spokesman Scott Ladd said about 3 inches of water was inside the west end of Terminal 4 and that maintenance crews were on scene, along with the Port Authority Police Department and FDNY.

The flooding shut down part of Terminal 4, suspending international flights to the terminal Sunday evening.

Video on social media showed water pouring down from ceilings and covering a wide swath of the terminal floor as workers tried to mop it up.

Ladd said international flights to Terminal 4 had been suspended as a result of the water pipe break. The inner roadway at the arrivals area of Terminal 4 was also closed because of the water, but the outer roadway remained open, Ladd said.

"Passengers who have already arrived are being deplaned and taken to other terminals for processing," he said, adding that there has been no impact on departures and AirTrain service "as far as we know."

A water main break flooded Terminal 4 at JFK Airport on Sunday, the latest in a series of extraordinary mishaps at the airport after a blizzard temporarily closed it Thursday. Wale Aliyu reports.

The Kennedy Airport Twitter account tweeted that traffic was heavy into Terminal 4, as taxis were being rerouted to the departure level.

Rick Cotton, the executive director of Port Authority, said Terminal 4 is privately operated and that the authority is investigating what happened. He said it's believed a feeder pipe to the sprinkler system broke after it froze because of the weather.

"This appears to be directly weather-related, but it's not clear why the pipe was not weather protected or what the immediate cause was of that freezing," Cotton said. 

Electricity to the flooded areas of the terminal was shut off after the pipe broke to ensure safety and prevent short-circuiting, Cotton said. On social media, people posted videos of a darkened terminal. 

"Wow! Total meltdown at #JFK after a water main break led to a power outage and no luggage for anyone #welcometonewyork," Twitter user @bubblyandbella posted. 

Cotton said the flooding took out two-thirds of the arrivals area of Terminal 4, including the Customs and Immigration processing facility. Inbound flight delays at the airport were more than 2 1/2 hours early Sunday evening. 

The Port Authority expects the operator of Terminal 4 to reopen the closed arrivals area around 7 p.m. Sunday, Cotton said. 

Shawn Makinen, vice president of facilities for JFKIAT, the company which operates Terminal 4, said in a statement: "We are working closely with local agencies and authorities, as well as on-site emergency maintenance personnel, to resume normal operations as quickly as possible." 

The flooded terminal and loss of power came as travelers endured hours-long waits on the tarmac, only to face more hours-long waits for their baggage when they got inside the terminal. Social media posts show mountains of luggage in baggage claim. 

Further complicating the travel nightmare: On Saturday, two planes collided on the tarmac and a man was arrested with a loaded, stolen gun while going through security.

Tempers flared as travelers endured long waits on planes and at the baggage carousel at JFK. Rana Novini reports.

The Port Authority, which manages the airport, says the delays stemmed from a backlog of flights after the airport was shut down Thursday in the first blizzard of 2018.

After it reopened, a "cascading series of issues" including extreme cold, frozen equipment breakdowns, staff shortages and difficulties in baggage handling contributed to the delays, the Port Authority said. 

“It’s getting like a madhouse," traveler Steven Litvin told NBC 4 New York. "People are getting upset. You have little kids, you have animals. It’s a madhouse.”

Passengers at describe chaos and long waits at JFK airports, where two planes collided on the tarmac. Rana Novini reports.

Litvin and his wife were walking out of the airport eight hours after their plane landed -- with just half of their luggage. 

“We’re tired," he said. "We’re frustrated. We didn’t get any sleep and we still don’t know where our bags are. Nobody knows anything and they all give you a circular answer: ‘it’s coming soon.’”

The Port Authority said that 94 flights were canceled on Saturday. The website FlightAware said that hundreds more were delayed. 

By 1 p.m. Sunday, there were already 20 canceled flights among the departures from JFK. For those trying to arrive, there were 24 cancellations and 128 delays. 

That means 19 percent of incoming flights were delayed Sunday. 

Tempers flared at the luggage carousel, where travelers waited for hours and posted pictures on social media of bags piling up. 

Emillio Mesa posted a photo of himself amid a sea of luggage on Instagram early Sunday and wrote: "I call this #baggageapocalypse ! I’ve been here since 8pm and still no luggage or answers! What is going on??! #jfkchaos #delta #nightmare"

Juan Cuellar was in the airport five hours waiting to pick up people arriving at JFK. "It's crazy, it's unbelievable," he said. "People are really mad because once they get out -- five hours wait -- they have to wait like one hour for their baggage. So it's a really long time." 

One person was recorded on video breaking out in a shouting, profanity-laden tirade while waiting for her bags at around 2:30 a.m. Sunday.  "I'm tired, man," she said, in about the only sentence that could be printed without obscenities. 

Virgin Atlantic said in a tweet that police were called to a disturbance at a gate they were sharing with another airline. The disturbance broke out after the other airline canceled a flight. 

Things were only made worse Saturday when the right wing of a China Southern plane hit the tail of a Kuwait Airways airliner, damaging both aircrafts, according to the Port Authority. 

The China Southern flight was being towed when the planes collided shortly after midnight, the FAA said. Both planes are Boeing 777s. No one was injured and all the passengers got off safely, but the collision only added to the mess. 

Kuwait Airways said on Twitter that Flight 118 from New York to Kuwait was struck by the Chinese plane as it was parked before takeoff. The airline said it was working with authorities in New York to investigate. The Kuwait Airways passengers were taken to hotels as they waited for alternative flights, the airline said. 

The China Southern plane didn't have any passengers at the time, according to the Port Authority. 

Also Saturday morning, Port Authority police said they arrested a 61-year-old man with a stolen gun as he went through security. 

The man, from Queens, had the loaded Sig Sauer P238 .38 caliber gun wrapped in his coat as it went through the conveyor belt of an X-ray machine at security, police said. He was arrested and charged with criminal possession of a weapon. 

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