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Sen. Charles Schumer Asks DOT to Step in After JFK Airport Disaster

What to Know

  • Sen. Charles Schumer is urging the Department of Transportation to take action to prevent the JFK Airport disaster from repeating
  • The lost baggage disaster has a lot to do with lack of coordination among the Port Authority and foreign airlines, he says
  • He says the DOT has leverage over international airlines because it issues Foreign Air Carrier Certificates for foreign airlines in the U.S.

As some travelers continue to deal with the aftermath of the John F. Kennedy Airport meltdown last weekend, U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer is asking the Department of Transportation to design a plan coordinating communication among the international airlines at the airport to prevent such dysfunction in the future.

A severe communication breakdown between the Port Authority, which oversees all three New York City-area airports, and the foreign airlines flying into JFK exacerbated the existing problems at the airport after the first snowstorm of the year walloped the tri-state, Schumer says. 

"Make no mistake, there is plenty of blame to go around when it comes to what happened at JFK, but some of that blame squarely lands on a lack of communication between foreign airlines that flooded JFK with flights and the entities that manage the airport," Schumer said in a news release.

He says passengers were left stranded, luggage was lost and flights diverted because the international airlines, the Port Authority and the terminal operators couldn't come up with a plan of action together.

The senator wrote a letter to the DOT Monday urging the agency to require international airlines at JFK to develop better communication systems and contigency plans with the Port Authority and terminal operators. The DOT has the strongest leverage over international airlines at Kennedy Airport because they issue Foreign Air Carrier Certificates that allow international airlines to fly into the U.S. 

"It's notable that while every airline experienced issues as a result of the weather related emergency, the situation was far worse with foreign carriers," he wrote to the DOT. "It's my firm belief that part of the reason for that is that foreign airlines simply do not have the same level of cooperation, coordination and communication with ground control operations."

The airport debacle started Thursday, Jan. 4, when a powerful winter storm hit New York amid unusually cold weather and forced the airport to close for the day. When it reopened on Friday, some terminal gates got tied up and led to a backlog of international flights trying to get in and out. Temperatures in the low teens also impacted equipment.

Then a water main burst and flooded a Terminal 4 on Sunday. Amid the chaos, tens of thousands of pieces of luggage got separated from their owners.

As travelers desperately awaited their missing luggage, News 4 reported exclusively last Tuesday that bags were being piled up in snow banks and the tarmac outside JFK. More missing bags were found stacked in the yard of BEX, the Queens-based luggage delivery service contracted by Delta, and in a Hilton New York hotel conference room near the airport in Jamaica. A hotel worker said they were from Air China and arrived there Wednesday morning.

(Workers at BEX did not want to speak to News 4 when reporters showed up Wednesday.)

Flyers have been emailing News 4, detailing their frustrating efforts to get their bags returned. The nightmare was continuing for some on Martin Luther King Day, with travelers unable to get any answers from either their airline or, in many cases, the companies contracted to deliver the missing bags, like BEX. 

"I got through to BEX today to ask when [the missing bags] would be delivered," Neel Kulkarni wrote to News 4 Monday after returning to New York from London on Jan. 7. "In response, they said they had no remaining bags at all and everything was returned to the airport. So I went there." 

"I spent three hours at the airport today searching for the bags," he said. "The only information Delta/Virgin could provide was they were sent on the 11th to the delivery companies -- one to BEX, and one to Queens Conveyance. My only option was to wait." 

Kulkarni said he has not clue where his bags are. 

"I am at a loss," he wrote. "This isn't expected in the greatest city in the world, where I love living."

While Port Authority oversees the entirety of JFK Airport, each of the six terminals is individually managed by independent operators. Terminals 1 and 4 were most impacted by the baggage disaster, and they are both predominantly used by international airlines. 

By the end of last week, all 4,000 bags at Terminal 4 had been processed and removed, and Terminal 1 had just 200 bags from Air China customers waiting to be processed, compared to its height of 1,000 bags.

But even as bags start to get returned to customers, more problems are cropping up. Rutgers University student Aly Abrams finally got her suitcase back 11 days after the baggage fiasco began, but it was broken, crudely taped together -- and the contents nearly all gone. Abrams, who is studying in Spain for the next six months, told News 4 Monday that the only clothes that made it are one boot and a bikini top. 

"I had a couple of little crying, sad moments because of it, but I'm trying to do the best I can," she said. "I just wish I knew more about where everything was." 

"I don't think JFK or any of the airports or airlines have any communication with one another or their customers, because every single time you call them, you get a different answer," said Abrams. 

The Port Authority has not responded to requests for comment on Schumer's request to the DOT. But it said last week it had tapped former Obama transportation secretary Ray LaHood to lead an investigation into how it the fiasco happened at JFK, and what can be done to prevent it from happening again. That investigation will begin next week; however, the findings could be months away.

Are you in the tri-state area and still missing luggage from JFK? Please contact us at

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