Power outage disrupts operations at BWI airport

People waited in long lines during a power outage at BWI airport Nov. 24, 2014.
People waited in long lines during a power outage at BWI airport Nov. 24, 2014. (Sun photo by Kris Henry)

A brief power outage at BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport on Monday contributed to more than 100 flight disruptions on one of the busiest travel weeks of the year.

The widespread outage only lasted about an hour and a half, but it temporarily stopped security screenings on three concourses and forced airlines — namely Southwest — to rapidly reschedule traffic and shift passengers among dozens of flights.


Airport officials warned travelers the delays would last through the afternoon, though spokesman Jonathan Dean said ticketing and security operations were "all moving well" within hours of the morning outage.

Southwest said delays would be felt through Monday, but should not affect Tuesday traffic.


Some travelers expressed frustration as a growing number of fliers sought to find seats on later flights.

"It's now chaos," said Karen Stickler, a Southwest Airlines flier who arrived at BWI from a business trip in San Antonio on Monday morning, en route to her home in Hartford.

"People are trying to get to Providence, Panama City, and Hartford and we're in a long line," Stickler wrote in an email midday. "The calmness apparent this [morning] is over even though the power is on."

According to Dean, a "brief power fluctuation" was first reported about 9:30 a.m. in the main terminal food court near Concourse C. It was followed by the more widespread outage about 10:20 a.m.


A preliminary investigation revealed an electrical cable beneath the airfield had failed, Dean said in an email. The cable is about 20 years old and has been tested annually, he said.

Airport personnel were able to isolate the damaged cable and restore power to the airport shortly before noon, though repairs to the cable were ongoing about 5 p.m. The airport has readied, but is not currently using, a 2 megawatt generator to serve as an emergency back-up until the repairs are completed.

Back-up power also maintained "emergency lighting, egress lighting, and basic safety and security functions" throughout the outage, he said, but those sources could not maintain power throughout the airport.

Aaron Koos, a spokesman for Baltimore Gas & Electric Co., which serves the airport and the broader region, said the issue at the airport did not involve the power supply, which was uninterrupted.

Dean said there was no sign of foul play.

The airfield remained open through the outage, as did some airline operations in areas of the airport that were not impacted, Dean said. Still, passengers reported information screens going black and lighting going out, including near the Southwest ticketing counters.

All of the concourses that serve Southwest — A, B and C — were closed for more than an hour.

Stickler, 39, said that behind security, "people weren't sure where to go if they had connecting flights, because there was no gate information," and that staff were being "very friendly" to fliers but had little information themselves without computer access.

Southwest said it was working with the airport and the Transportation Security Administration to take care of passengers' needs.

"We are working hard to reaccommodate those Customers [whose] flights have been delayed or cancelled to get them to their final destinations Safely," the airline said in a statement. "We appreciate our [customers'] patience as we work to get them to where they need to go."

The flight tracking website FlightAware.com showed 95 delayed flights and 24 canceled flights into and out of BWI as of about 5:30 p.m. Dean said some arriving flights had been diverted because of the outage.

The majority of the flights were on Southwest, which operates more than 70 percent of traffic at the Anne Arundel County airport.

Thais Conway, a Southwest spokeswoman, said schedule changes forced by the outage would likely last through Monday, but customers should be "back on track" on Tuesday.

Many travelers were beginning to hit the road — and the skies — for Thanksgiving travel. Between Wednesday and Sunday, some 72,800 Marylanders are expected to fly, according to AAA Mid-Atlantic estimates.

Some travelers took the outage in stride.

"My kids travel so much that it's not that big a deal," said Liz Myers, of Alexandria, who was traveling with husband Gabriel and kids Dylan, 11, and Ryan, 7. "But this is the first time we've seen the power go out without a back up generator."

"I've had this happen before. I've had a two-hour wait," said Dylan. "It can be frustrating because there's no where to sit."

By Monday afternoon, Stickler had booked another flight to Hartford on Tuesday. She has a sister in Kensington, and would stay the night there, she said — albeit without her luggage, which was already on its way to Hartford.

"Hopefully the airport will be functioning well by tomorrow morning!" she said.

Baltimore Sun editor Kris Henry contributed to this article.


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