The chaos at New York's JFK airport was made worse by a major operational flaw

  • John F. Kennedy International Airport closed on Thursday, forcing many flights to reroute before arriving at the airport on Friday.
  • Unlike most airports, JFK’s terminals operate independently and rarely work with each other.
  • This meant that many travellers had to wait on the runway for an open gate at their assigned terminal for as many as nine hours on Friday and Saturday, even if gates at other terminals were open.

Travellers using New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport have had a rough week. From delays and cancellations to a water main that burst and flooded a baggage claim area, operations at the airport have been a mess.

But things were worse than they had to be due to the strange way the airport’s terminals are set up. According to Jason Rabinowitz at The Points Guy, JFK’s terminals operate independently and rarely work with each other. This became a huge problem when the airport closed on Thursday morning and pushed back its reopening time from Thursday afternoon to Friday morning.

Before it delayed its reopening, dozens of flights – many of them international – were already flying to the airport, assuming it would be open by Thursday afternoon. Once they learned they wouldn’t be able to land at JFK until Friday, these flights were either rerouted to other airports or turned back to their departure points.

Their problems compounded when they tried to land at JFK on Friday. Since the airport had to make room for an extra day’s worth of planes while operating its normal schedule, many Thursday flights had trouble finding open gates.

But the problem was worsened because JFK’s terminals rarely cooperate, so each Thursday flight had to wait until a gate at its originally assigned terminal was open. This meant that if a flight had planned to land at Terminal 1 on Thursday, it had to wait until it could find a gate at Terminal 1, even if gates at other terminals were open. As a result, travellers sat on the runway for as many as nine hours while waiting to de-board their flights.

The incident showed why JFK often ranks among America’s least satisfying airports.

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