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Atlanta Airport Playing Catch-Up With Holiday Travel


The electricity is back on at the world's busiest airport in Atlanta, but the travel woes will linger for days. And the ripple-effect is being felt in the Florida Panhandle. 

Thousands of passengers were stranded Monday at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport,  just days before the start of the Christmas travel rush. A fire in an underground electrical facility brought the airport to a standstill early Sunday afternoon. Power was restored around midnight.

“Here is what we know right now; one of Georgia Power’s three substations had a fire, and at about 1:06 p.m. a power outage occurred at the airport,” said Atlanta Mayor Karim Reed, who added that they’re making sure the facility safe and secure in the fire’s aftermath.

“There is no evidence to suggest that the fire was caused deliberately,” said Reed. “Even so, we’re taking this matter extremely seriously.”

The hardest-hit airline is Delta, which calls Atlanta home and has its largest hub operation there. The effects are nationwide, including northwest Florida.  

“Just like any major weather event, we’re going to have delays, and specific to the situation at Hartsfield-Jackson,” said Tracy Stage, Director of Destin-Fort Walton Beach Airport. But, he adds that Delta, the only airline with affected flights there, has a reputation for bouncing back relatively quickly.

“We expect Delta to be full-up and catching up on flight cancellations as quick as possible,” said Stage. “We feel for the folks in Atlanta and we hope for the speedy recovery, and we expect that to be the case.”

Passengers planning to fly Delta out of Destin-Fort Walton are asked to contact the airline before heading to the airport, to check on their flight’s status.

The City of Pensacola, which owns Pensacola International Airport, declined to provide an airport official for comment. In a written statement, the city said “it will take time to reposition aircraft and flight crews, and to handle all of the affected passengers.”

“We’re looking at the most air travelers for this year-end holiday on record; we’re anticipating about 6.4 million Americans that would fly, which is about 4.1 percent more than last year,” said Mark Jenkins at AAA South in Tampa.

“We’re not even counting the people who are at the airports right now that might be dealing with delays,” Jenkins said. “The anticipation is that things could hopefully return back to normal before the end of the weekend, [when] the heavier traffic time really arrives.”

Usually, the rule of thumb is for airline passengers to get to the airport a couple of hours before their flight. But Jenkins says in this case, it’s much better arrive earlier than later, and expect longer lines.

“At the baggage check, at the airport screening lines; if you know you’re going to a busy airport you might want to add an additional hour on there, just to make sure you have more time,” said Jenkins. “You never really know what you’re going to get.”

The disruption led to almost 1,200 flight cancellations to and from the Atlanta airport on Sunday, according to tracking service www.FlightAware.com. Delta cancelled 300 flights on Monday.