01.16.18

SCHUMER REVEALS: LACK OF COMMUNICATION BETWEEN FOREIGN AIRLINES & PORT AUTHORITY HELPED CREATE THE CHAOS AT KENNEDY; FOREIGN AIRLINES FLOODED JFK WITH FLIGHTS & LITTLE COORDINATION WITH PORT AUTHORITY; SENATOR ASKS USDOT TO INSTITUTE A PLAN TO MAKE SURE COORDINATION IS BETTER NEXT TIME & SO PEOPLE AREN’T IN TRAVEL-HELL

Schumer Says Improved Comms Between Foreign Airlines & JFK Airport Would Curb Potential Chaos– And That USDOT Can Help Fix It Before Next Storm Hits  

Some Travelers Are Still Without Luggage; While Port Authority Is Culpable, Along With Foreign Airlines, Feds Can Ensure Those Airlines Better Communicate So Chaos Doesn't Compound 

Schumer: Fed Pressure On Foreign Airlines & Better Comms Can Help Prevent Winter Chaos From Snowballing

 

On the heels of the JFK Airport chaos that delivered travel hell to countless fliers just one week ago, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer revealed more details today about the airport incident. Schumer said that while there were many factors that led to the situation, clearly the lack of communication between foreign airlines and the Port Authority intensified the chaos, doubling down on what was an already hectic scene. Schumer further revealed that many travelers are still without their luggage as he made a formal push for the U.S. Department of Transportation to take an active role in bringing foreign airlines to table, along with the Port Authority and it’s terminal operators, to come up with a coordination and communication plan to prevent the chaos and dysfunction from ever happening again. Schumer said USDOT needs to immediately ensure foreign airlines will work hand-in-glove with the Port Authority and terminal operators on a solution that prevents these types of breakdowns.  

“Make no mistake, there is plenty of blame to go around when it comes to what happened at JFK, but some of that blame squarely lands on a lack of communication between foreign airlines that flooded JFK with flights and the entities that manage the airport,” said U.S. Senator Charles Schumer. “It was this lack of communication that helped to create the chaos at Kennedy and it is only through improving this system that we will prevent this from happening again. So, I am asking the U.S. Department of Transportation to take an active role here and make sure people aren’t put through travel-hell again. Federal pressure on foreign airlines to work with the Port Authority to come up with a better communication plan for the airport can help prevent this kind of winter chaos from snowballing in the future.”

Schumer detailed that because many of the communication breakdowns and failures occurred between foreign airlines and the Port Authority, increased federal pressure would likely help resolve the situation sooner because foreign airlines are not always as responsive to specific needs and challenges of an individual airport. Schumer said the U.S. Department of Transportation has the strongest leverage over foreign airlines because they issue Foreign Air Carrier Certificates that allow foreign airlines to fly in the United States, and that as such USDOT should make sure foreign airlines are doing everything in their power to improve communication and coordination systems with JFK. Schumer said that while the Port Authority and the terminal operator are culpable, communication break downs foreign airlines did make things worse, and that as the Port Authority investigation begins its own investigation, the feds can step in as a faster and relevant assist.

Schumer noted that while the Port Authority oversees the entirety of JFK Airport, the six terminals within the airport are individually managed by independent operators. Schumer said the two terminals most impacted by last week’s dysfunction were terminals 1 and 4: both predominately used by foreign airlines. In his letter to USDOT, Schumer today said that while there is no question that the problems at JFK were a result of multiple factors, including bad weather, operational mistakes, poor timing, and the cascading impact of airport disruptions on the entire aviation network, it’s also clear that better communication between foreign airlines, the Port Authority, and terminal operators could have helped to prevent some of the chaos.

All flights in and out of JFK International Airport were canceled on January 4th, as a result of the bomb cyclone. The following day, when flights resumed, planes landing on JFK’s tarmac became stranded because all of the gates were full – a problem which could have been prevented had the airlines and ground operations communicated better about the space limitations at the airport. Amidst the confusion, a water main broke and flooded the baggage claim area of Terminal 4. As a result, thousands of pieces of luggage became separated from their owners—some for nearly a week.  

The six terminals at the airport are subcontracted by the airlines and managed by independent operators. According to reports, JFK’s international terminals (terminals 1 and 4) were impacted most by the bomb cyclone fiasco.  In fact, two days after the bomb cyclone hit, Terminal 1 was forced to close down because of the flight capacity. And, Terminal 4, was evacuated as a result of the water main burst.

Following the several day disaster, the Port Authority announced that former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood would be conducting a thorough investigation of the situation. Schumer today said that while the investigation is a good step, and he eagerly awaits the results of the review, the USDOT should move forward with addressing some of the underlying issues immediately.

In his letter to USDOT, Schumer today said one of the most serious underlying issues involved in the JFK disaster were the blatant communication gaps between international airlines and ground operations. Schumer explained that passengers were left stranded, luggage was lost, and flights were diverted as a result of, among other things, the inability for international airlines, the Port Authority, and terminal operators to quickly and adequately communicate on a plan of action. Schumer went on to say that, while the airport as a whole was impacted, the situation was far worse with foreign carriers at terminals 1 and 4.

Schumer today urged the DOT to require foreign carriers to make improvements to their communication systems at JFK Airport. Schumer explained that the USDOT has leverage over the foreign airlines at JFK Airport and therefore, the agency should encourage those airlines to develop more meaningful communication systems and contingency plans with the Port Authority and terminal operators.

A copy of Schumer’s letter to DOT is below:

Dear Secretary Chao:

I write to request your assistance in addressing some of the coordination and communication issues that occurred at John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) following last week’s winter storm. While there is no question that the problems at JFK were a result of multiple factors, including bad weather, operational mistakes, poor timing, and the cascading impact of airport disruptions on the entire aviation network, it’s also clear that better communication between foreign airlines, the Port Authority, and terminal operators could have helped to prevent some of the chaos.

I am aware that former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood will be conducting a thorough investigation of the situation, and I eagerly await the results of that review and any recommendations he may have. That said, I also believe we should start making progress on some of the underlying issues immediately, and that includes using the Department of Transportation’s leverage over foreign airlines to encourage them develop more meaningful communication systems and contingency plans with the Port Authority, and the individual companies that manage terminal operations.

While certainly not the only factor, in this case communication breakdowns between international airlines and ground operations contributed to an unacceptable situation. Passengers were left stranded, luggage was lost, and flights were diverted as a result of, among other things, the inability for international airlines, the Port Authority, and terminal operators to quickly and adequately communicate on a plan of action. It’s notable that while every airline experienced issues as a result of the weather related emergency, the situation was far worse with foreign carriers. It’s my firm belief that part of the reason for that is that foreign airlines simply do not have the same level of cooperation, coordination, and communication with ground control operations.

As you are aware, the Department of Transportation has tremendous leverage over foreign airlines because the Department is responsible for issuing Foreign Air Carrier Certificates for airlines wishing to operate in the United States. It’s my hope that you will utilize that leverage to ensure that foreign airlines work hand-in-glove with the Port Authority and terminal operators to develop a real and meaningful solution so that this situation never happens again. While I remain mindful that foreign airlines are not solely to blame for this situation and that all parties must do better job in protecting passengers, that does not change the fact that foreign airlines will be a critical part of the solution.

I appreciate your attention to this matter, should you need more information please do not hesitate to contact my office.

Sincerely,

U.S. Senator Charles Schumer 

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