A water leak at JFK Airport caused hundreds of flight delays, cancellations, and diversions on the busiest travel weekend of the pandemic

jfk airport
Travelers are seen at John F. Kennedy (JFK) Airport ahead of Memorial day weekend on May 28, 2021 in New York City.

  • Nearly 300 flights were delayed or diverted after a water leak at JFK airport in New York City.
  • The FAA told Insider the leak was in one of its air-traffic control towers and has been repaired.
  • The disruption occurred on the busiest weekend for travel since the start of the pandemic.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Hundreds of flights were delayed, canceled, or diverted Saturday evening after a water leak at the John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City, according to the airport and the Federal Aviation Administration.

The airport described the situation as a “minor water leak” in its main control tower, but the impact was significant – nearly 300 of the scheduled arrivals on Saturday evening were reported either delayed or diverted.

“Operations at this facility, combined with area weather, require more spacing between aircraft,” the airport said in a tweet. “As such, the FAA is holding most flights destined for JFK from departing.”

The airport warned in a second tweet that the airport remains open, “however as a result of this, coupled with regional weather conditions, customers may experience residual delays.”

The FAA told Insider in a statement that air traffic controllers reported a water leak in the tower’s ceiling earlier on Saturday and relocated to an alternate tower, causing the FAA to “briefly” slow departures and arrivals.

The FAA said controllers returned to the original tower later Saturday evening and resumed normal operations.

The disruption occurred in the middle of the Fourth of July weekend, which was expected to be the busiest weekend for travel since the start of the pandemic. AAA estimated that some 3.7 million Americans will fly this weekend – a 164% increase from last year.

The Transportation Security Administration also announced that it screened a whopping 2.1 million people at airport security checkpoints on July 1 alone, surpassing even 2019’s volume.

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Flights are being halted at 2 major airports in Texas to disinfect an air traffic control center where 2 workers tested positive for COVID-19 this week

Dallas Ft. Worth Airport
An American Airlines plane at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.

  • The Federal Aviation Administration issued a ground stop for flights departing and arriving into Dallas while a facility is being cleaned after two workers tested positive for COVID-19 this week.
  • Flights are also temporarily barred from landing or taking off from any airport under the airspace, which extends across Northern Texas from parts of New Mexico to parts of Louisiana and Arkansas. 
  • Exactly 22 people working at the facility reported having COVID-19, the highest of any FAA facility in Dallas. 
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Flights in and out of Dallas are being grounded as the air traffic control center responsible for the region’s high-altitude airspace is undergoing a two and a half hour cleaning after one of the facility’s personnel tested positive for COVID-19.

This is the second case this week where facility personnel tested positive for the virus, with the most recent incident occurring as recently as Monday, the Federal Aviation Administration’s website shows. Six FAA facilities in the Dallas area have reported positive COVID-19 cases, four of which reported cases multiple times, but this facility has experienced a whopping 22 cases, including Wednesday’s. 

The FAA issued a ground stop for all aircraft landing within the facility’s airspace during the cleaning, which extends well beyond the Dallas metropolitan area. Its airspace includes the skies above most of Northern Texas, Southern Oklahoma, Western Arkansas, Western Louisiana, and Eastern New Mexico. 

Dallas-bound flights that haven’t taken off yet are being held at their departure airports while flights en route to the area will likely need to enter holding patterns or divert to other airports outside of the airspace until the ground stop is lifted.

The Dallas Air Route Traffic Control Center typically coordinates flights in upper altitudes that depart from and arrive at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport and Dallas’ Love Field. The airports are home to American Airlines and Southwest Airlines, respectively, which operate hundreds of daily flights from the city. 

Aircraft slated to fly through Dallas’s wide-ranging airspace may also need to be rerouted around it, which can increase flight times for other aircraft. The facility is still open, the FAA confirmed to Business Insider, but likely operating with a reduced workforce due to the cleaning. 

The first high-profile incident of COVID-19 affecting sensitive air traffic control facilities occurred in March when the air traffic control tower at Chicago’s Midway International Airport was forced to close, grounding flights in and out of the airport. In Las Vegas, the extended closure of McCarran International Airport’s air traffic control facilities meant aircraft had to communicate directly with each other to coordinate their movements. 

Air traffic controllers at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport retreated to a secondary location while their control tower was closed for cleaning in March. Not all airports, however, have backup facilities for their air traffic control operations. 

Air Route Control Centers are also typically closed overnight for cleaning to reduce the impact on flights during the day but the frequency of cases this week likely prompted the afternoon cleaning. The ground stop also comes during what is proving to be the busiest travel time of the pandemic with over one million daily passengers passing through US airports on the days surrounding the Christmas and New Year’s holidays

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