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Small Fire at New York JFK Shuts Down Terminal 1, Cancels Flights

A small fire caused a power outage at Terminal 1, with flight disruptions and delays expected until at least the end of the day

by Fergus Cole

February 17, 2023

Photo: Renderings of JFK Airport's New Terminal One. Courtesy of PANYNJ

A power outage at New York John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) Terminal 1 forced the closure of the building and the immediate cancellation of numerous incoming and outgoing flights. The remained closed on Friday, February 17.

Ongoing electrical issues at the building affected both inbound and outbound flights leaving thousands of passengers stranded.

“JFK Terminal 1 will remain closed on 2/17 due to electrical issues as the Port Authority continues working with the terminal’s operator to restore flight operations as quickly as possible,” the airport said in a tweet posted on Friday morning. “Travelers should check with their carriers for flight status before coming to the airport.”

According to Alana Calmi, a spokesperson for the Port Authority of New York and Jersey, an electrical panel failure caused a “small isolated fire overnight that was immediately extinguished,” which subsequently led to a power cut at Terminal 1. She also said that efforts are being made to relocate operations to other terminals to limit the disruption to passengers.

“The Port Authority and its terminal operators are working together to accommodate impacted flights using other terminals,” said Calmi.

According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the power outage and subsequent disruption are expected to last for around 24 hours.

Airlines Affected by the Outage

Terminal 1 is served by SkyTeam Alliance carriers Air France, ITA Airways, Korean Air, China Eastern Airlines, and Saudia.

Also, Star Alliance carriers operating in the building are Lufthansa, Swiss International Air Lines, Brussels Airlines, Austrian Airlines, Air China, Air New Zealand, Asiana Airlines, Air China, TAP Air Portugal, and Turkish Airlines.

Lastly, foreign carriers Air Senegal, Air Serbia, Azores Airlines, Cayman Airways, Norse Atlantic, Philippine Airlines, and Volaris round up the list of current airlines affected by the outage.

Mid-Air Flights Turned Back

The outage has already caused widespread disruption to flights coming in and out of New York JFK, leaving passengers across the country and across the Atlantic stranded and frustrated.

One flight from Milan Malpensa Airport (MXP) operated by ITA Airways was forced to return to Italy several hours into its journey. At the same time, an Air France flight from Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport (CDG) was diverted to Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) after a three-hour delay on the tarmac.

Some international flights were even diverted out of state, including an Ethiopian Airlines flight from Frankfurt Airport (FRA), which was sent to Boston Logan International Airport (BOS), and an Egypt Air service from Cairo International Airport (CAI), diverted to Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD).

One of the more extreme cases involved a “16-hour flight to nowhere”. An Air New Zealand service from Auckland Airport (AKL) was forced to turn back after flying for seven hours across the Pacific, touching back in New Zealand after more than 16 hours.

The Transport Security Administration (TSA) also said the power outage caused six of its eight lanes at its Terminal 1 security checkpoint to close, causing further delays to passengers.

Lisa Farbstein, a spokesperson for the TSA, said, “The TSA is eager for power to be restored so that we can resume normal checkpoint operations.”

JFK is no stranger to flight delays and cancellations, having a long history of passenger disruption. However, a deal was struck in 2021 to authorize the construction of a brand-new, $9 billion international terminal at JFK with the intention that it would help to ease congestion at the notoriously busy airport. However, it’s not expected to open its gates until at least 2026, with the project set for completion by 2028.

Only 5% of Flights Have Been Affected

By 5 PM local time, the airport released an update noting that a team “continues to work with Terminal 1’s operator to complete repairs, restore power, and resume flight operations at the terminal as soon as possible.” Airport management also clarified that no other terminals are affected by the power outage.

In addition to this update, the airport explained that Terminal 1 represents only 5% of all JFK scheduled passenger flights. “Of today’s 64 scheduled Terminal 1 arrivals and departures, 13 will operate at other JFK terminals, 12 will operate at other local airports, and 39 have been canceled,” said the airport.

Even though it’s likely that the problem will be solved today, the airport warned that Saturday’s operations might resume but in a limited fashion. “Contingent on the completion of repairs and testing, we anticipate the start of limited operations at Terminal 1 on Saturday. Travelers should continue to check with their carriers for flight status before coming to Terminal 1,” tweeted the airport.