Passengers flying from Atlanta to the Golden Triangle Regional Airport Monday exit their plane just before noon. The flyers experienced a nearly three-hour delay due to a power outage at the Atlanta airport Sunday night, caused by a fire in an underground electrical facility, which resulted in thousands of canceled or delayed flights to and from the international airport. Photo by: Luisa Porter/Dispatch Staff
From left, Laura Beth McConahie, Jesse McConahie and Steve Grado.
Photo by: Photos by Luisa Porter/Dispatch Staff
Mike Hainsey, left, executive director of the Golden Triangle Regional Airport, and GTR employee Connie Saddler distribute refreshments to passengers flying from Atlanta as they enter the GTR terminal Monday morning. Many of the passengers flying home to Columbus or Starkville were stranded in the Atlanta airport overnight Sunday due to a power outage caused by a fire in an underground airport electrical facility.
Photo by: Luisa Porter/Dispatch Staff
December 19, 2017 10:16:51 AM
Pitch black terminals. Blinking red "exit" signs. Thousands of people spending the night on or under airport benches.
What sounds like a scene from a horror movie was how locals landing at the Golden Triangle Regional Airport Monday described the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport Sunday night after a power outage left thousands of passengers with canceled flights and delayed returns home.
Jesse and Laura Beth McConahie were heading home to Columbus from a work trip in Washington, D.C. They landed in Atlanta around 2 p.m. Sunday, only an hour after the airport halted operations due to a fire in an underground electrical facility.
"When we landed we were one of the last planes to be accepted," Laura Beth said.
She said there were lines of planes on the runway when they touched down, and they sat on the plane for almost six hours before being allowed to exit from the vehicle's rear. Once inside the airport, they were greeted by a confused crowd and lack of communication.
"There was no direction," Jesse said.
Airport personnel told the couple and others leaving the airport meant they might not be able to reenter.
"We were told there were no hotels available, and because there was no power, we couldn't get a car to leave," Laura Beth said. "It was definitely not what I was expecting."
The McConahies were directed to a different terminal where they received food and blankets around 1 a.m. Laura Beth -- who helped push a woman in a wheelchair between terminals and who couldn't help but think of the mother she saw traveling alone with her kids -- said she and her husband were lucky they had no major medical needs or dietary restrictions.
One of the situation's few redeeming factors, she added, was the unity among passengers.
"People were gathering together and just doing what they could to get through things," she said.
Mississippi State University forestry professor Steve Grado had a layover in Atlanta on his way home from Pittsburgh.
"When we got off the plane we couldn't see anything, with the exception of a few emergency lights," Grado said.
Like other passengers, Grado was running out of power on his cellphone and laptop and had no way of charging either.
He decided to spend Sunday night in the baggage claim area because he figured there would be a lighter crowd. There he met a grandmother and her 13-year-old granddaughter who were traveling together from southern Brazil to San Jose, California to visit family. They spoke Portuguese, but Grado tried to communicate with them using the little Spanish he knew.
"I helped them get their bags because they were confused," he said.
Grado, like Laura Beth, said he was thankful the crowds of people he encountered remained calm.
According to the Associated Press, over 1,000 flights from Atlanta were canceled Sunday night, and Mike Hainsey, GTR executive director, said the regional airport had three canceled flights between Atlanta and Columbus. He said the three flights affected about 150 people.
Grado and the McConahies touched down at GTR just before noon Monday after a 3-hour delay. They were on board with about 20 other passengers.
"I'm here, and I'm so happy," Grado said.
GTR had refreshments waiting for the passengers when they arrived.
"We decided it was Christmas and these guys had a rough time and that it was a wonderful way to welcome them here," Hainsey said. "I talked to one guy who spent seven hours in a terminal last night and he appreciated the gesture."
Hainsey said two later flights from Atlanta to Columbus Monday arrived on time.
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