Thousands of Airline Passengers Affected by FAA System Outage

Having a flight delayed, then receiving little information or hope about when it will finally take off, is not an unfamiliar fate for frequent fliers. But the F.A.A. system failure that caused more than 6,500 delays on Wednesday led to a slightly different dynamic for the frustrated passengers: This time, they didn’t have the airline to blame.

“Because it was a systemwide, nationwide thing, there was nowhere to direct your outrage, so everybody was being really helpful,” said Jess McIntosh, a political consultant whose American Airlines flight was delayed in Albany, N.Y. “And nobody was yelling at the T.S.A. agents.”

Bettina Inclán, who was traveling to Houston from Washington, said her United pilot kept everyone on her delayed flight informed and calm.

“The entire United team did really well in setting expectations, being honest on what they knew and didn’t know and what it all meant,” she said.

As Sara Hole, of Stamford, Conn., and her fiancé, Drew Tomlinson, waited by their gate in Newark Liberty International Airport on Wednesday morning, they got the impression that the American Airlines staff members were just as confused as the passengers.

Over the intercom, an airline representative told them there was an F.A.A. “system outage,” but there were few other details.

“They have emphasized that they have all of the same information that we do,” Ms. Hole said.

Some of the passengers may have been understanding, but their plans were no less ruined. Ms. McIntosh, who left for the airport at 4:30 a.m. to catch a flight to Raleigh, N.C., for a business meeting, eventually went back home when she realized she was going to miss most of it. Ms. Inclán had to rearrange several meetings. Ms. Hole said they would probably miss their connecting flight, disrupting their planned hiking trip for Mr. Tomlinson’s birthday.

Nor were passengers any less upset.

“I’m very mad,” said Sayron Stokes, who was looking for a quiet corner of La Guardia Airport for a nap on Wednesday. “We need to do something better. I don’t know what more we need to see in place, but this is ridiculous. I am losing a day, and I’ve had no sleep just to get back home.”

But unlike Southwest’s holiday season meltdown, when passengers aimed their ire squarely at the airline and some of its workers, the disappointment on Wednesday couldn’t be pinned on a specific company, or even on the whims of severe weather. No matter the airline or the region of the country, everyone was in the dark.

It led to confusing scenes in the early morning as the picture came into focus. Venus Marcil said she and her uncle were on their plane in Orlando International Airport, seatbelt fastened for their 7:25 a.m. Delta flight to New York, when the pilot said they were cleared to take off.

“Then they backed off of it,” she recalled the pilot saying. They were deplaned, and she was told she would receive an update in about two hours.

But that wasn’t Delta’s fault, she said.

“I think they’ve been transparent and timely with the communication,” Ms. Marcil said of the airline.

Jenny Gross, Jordyn Holman and Nancy Wartik contributed reporting.

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