Losing your luggage after a flight is often a traveler’s worst nightmare, but after the “weather bomb” hit much of the U.S. East Coast last week, many travelers who went through John F. Kennedy International Airport experienced that very fear.
It was just one of many chaotic situations facing the airport that sees tens of millions of people through its doors every year.
The chaos started last Thursday when a winter system slammed into the East Coast, stretching across many eastern states and into Canada causing numerous airline delays, confused passengers and bags left behind.
Terminal gates saw delays, causing many international flights to sit waiting to leave or arrive, then two days later, two passenger planes collided on the runway and though no one was injured, more backlogs occurred. Then, to add to the delays, a water main burst and flooded a terminal on Sunday.
By Tuesday, it was revealed thousands of bags were waiting in the airport still not returned to their owners, down from the tens of thousands separated a few days earlier, but CBS2 reported sources told them the number neared 5,000. Video posted on Twitter on Jan. 7, showed luggage piled on top of each other near baggage claim as people attempted to find where their bags were.
Richard Bobrow of Westport, Conn., told the CBS affiliate he had been trying in vain to find his son’s suitcase and had been told it hadn’t been scanned yet so it could not yet be found.
Sol Rosado of Philadelphia echoed the frustration, having had a family funeral have to be postponed due to storm-affected flights. When she had arrived in the Dominican Republic for the funeral, she was told her bag never left New York.
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“I’ve looked in all the piles — this pile, there’s two more piles down there — and they said, ‘Look, if you can see it,'” she told CBS on Wednesday. “But it’s like, how can you find it?”
As of Thursday afternoon, the number had been cut to below 400, according to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, though NBC reported some bags may have been stored in a nearby hotel.
“What happened at JFK was completely unacceptable and we will investigate what went wrong and prevent it from happening again,” said Port Authority executive director Rick Cotton in a statement.
Now, the chaos is being investigated Ray Lahood, who served as former president Barack Obama’s transportation secretary. The Port Authority says LaHood will study all aspects that led to the chaos and make recommendations on what needs to be fixed.
Baggage won’t be the sole focus for LaHood — he will be looking into what preparations were put in place leading up to the Nor’easter, the closing and re-opening of the airport during the storm, the baggage issues, and even the water leak.
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“The Port Authority leadership has asked me to lead a comprehensive investigation into the recent events at JFK Airport, looking at every aspect of what went wrong and making recommendations about what must be fixed,” LaHood said in a Port Authority release.
LaHood is expected to begin the investigation next week with his findings and recommendations expected to be released in a report in the coming months. Interim results will also be reported as the investigation progresses.