JFK delays hundreds of flights during jam-packed July 4 weekend

At least 300 flights at JFK Airport were canceled or delayed over the Fourth of July weekend because of a water leak at the airport’s control tower as US airlines enjoyed their busiest week since before COVID ravaged the travel industry.

The airport notified passengers of the delays on its Twitter page shortly before 7pm on Saturday and the FAA held departing flights bound for JFK for about an hour.

In a tweet, the airport wrote, ‘JFK controllers are returning to the primary control tower following an earlier water leak. The airport remains open, however as a result of this, coupled with regional weather conditions, customers may experience residual delays. Contact your airline for your flight’s status.’

Around 9pm, it followed up with, ‘JFK controllers are operating from a secondary control tower due to a minor water leak in the main facility. Operations at this facility, combined with area weather, require more spacing between aircraft. As such, the FAA is holding most flights destined for JFK from departing.’

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All airborne inbound flights and departing planes were delayed by an average of 30 minutes, NBC New York first reported. 

Further details of the water leak were not shared, thought some tweeters claimed that they’d heard rumors of a roof collapse. 

DailyMail.com has contacted JFK Airport for further comment.  

It is unclear what long-term impacts the leak and subsequent delays will have on air travel, but data on the airport’s website shows dozens of diverted flights traveling to airports along the east coast, including Newark, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Miami.

The leak comes amid an already jam-packed weekend for the tourism industry, which must meet the sudden surge in demand as the number of Americans flying surpassed pre-pandemic Transportation Security Administration screening numbers.

Figures from the TSA on Thursday and Friday show that airport screenings climbed above 2019 levels for the first time since the pandemic began.

On Thursday, 2,147,090 people were screened, surpassing the 2,088,760 travelers on the same day in 2019.

There were 2,196,411 travelers screened on July 3, as compared to the 2,184,253 people who travelled on July 2 in 2019.

Video: Boeing cargo plane makes emergency water landing (Reuters)

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These numbers far surpass 2020 figures, when high death and infection rates limited travel over the holiday weekend to reach a high of just 764,761 people on July 1, 2020.

The strong travel numbers for Independence Day weekend are mainly due to domestic U.S. leisure travel, with most business-related and long-haul international travel still on hold, CNBC.com reported. European Union nations are welcoming back vaccinated US travelers – although the United States has yet to return the favor and lift ongoing travel bans on the EU and UK. 

In total, 47.7 million people will travel by car or plane over the weekend, 40 percent more than last year and just 2.5 percent lower than the record level set in 2019.

Hopper economist Adit Damodarn told ABC News that July 4 was the most searched for weekend on its travel booking site so far in 2021. Domestic holiday spots like Las Vegas, Miami and Orlando are most popular, he said, while those heading further afield are opting for the Caribbean and Mexico.

Chicago O’Hare, LAX, and Las Vegas McCarran International Airport will be the busiest while Friday and Monday will see the heaviest flow of travelers through the nation’s airports, he said.

United Airlines recorded its busiest day since the start of the pandemic on Thursday and expects to surpass this record again on July 5, reported ABC. 

Overall, two million passengers are forecast to fly with the airline between Thursday and Tuesday.

The surge in travelers has left the tourism industry struggling to cope with the sudden demand, after it was hammered by COVID-19 restrictions over the last year.

Airlines which were forced to furlough or lay off staff as air travel ground to a halt last March are now struggling to get enough crew members to fly their planes.

The TSA has said it plans to hire 6,000 new officers to cope with the surge in summer travel and is launching recruitment initiatives to drive interest.

The staff shortages across the air travel industry could mean long waits at airports for passengers eager to reunite with friends and family.

‘Airlines, airports and the TSA, I think, were all surprised by how quickly travel has rebounded,’ Henry Harteveldt, travel industry analyst at Atmosphere Research Group, told CBS News.

Considering the number of people wiling to leave their homes to celebrate this weekend, consumer behavior throughout the summer is expected to revitalize the battered tourism industry after it was stalled by the pandemic.

‘What we have is what I call pent-up demand squared,’ Sean Snaith, an economist at the University of Central Florida, told WSJ. ‘You have this traditional notion of pent-up demand, but it’s coupled with the fact that people were literally pent up in their homes. The confluence of those two types of pent-up demand are being unleashed.’

But despite travel numbers that rival pre-pandemic days, the US is still battling the coronavirus and officials said they are currently witnessing a rise in cases of the Delta variant.

More than 30 percent of adults are still not vaccinated and officials are concerned about large numbers of vaccinated and unvaccinated Americans mixing, with Joe Biden warning that ‘lives will be lost’ because of people who didn’t get the shot.

The US is currently averaging about 12,000 new cases and 250 deaths a day now thanks to 66.8 percent of the nation’s adults have received at least their first dose of the vaccine.

It is short of Biden’s goal of 70 percent by July 4.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky on Thursday warned that around 1,000 counties nationwide are especially ‘vulnerable’ as they are yet to reach the 30 percent milestone.

This is enabling the Delta variant to spread rapidly, she warned, with cases of the new strain now recorded in every state.

The Biden administration has prepared for a further rise in the Delta variant in areas of low vaccination by setting up surge response teams that can spring in to action and help if an outbreak erupts.

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