LAX, other SoCal airports affected by the FAA’s temporary grounding order

Air travel in California and across the country faltered Wednesday morning when a systems outage forced the Federal Aviation Administration to temporarily ground planes, creating thousands of delays.

The agency blamed the chaos on “an outage overnight in the FAA’s air mission notification system that provides safety information to flight crews.”

“Our initial work traced the outage to a corrupt database file,” a later statement said.

Nearly 11,000 flights across multiple airlines in, in or out of the country have been delayed or canceled, according to FlightAware, a flight-tracking website. In contrast, about 6,000 Tuesdays were postponed or canceled, according to the site.

The White House initially said there was no evidence of a cyberattack behind the power outage that disrupted travel plans for millions of passengers. President Biden said Wednesday morning that he directed the Department of Transportation to investigate.

Several Southern California airports reported delays, though airport spokespeople said early Wednesday that they may have avoided major problems because their facilities had limited activity or were shut down when a system failure occurred.

Flights prepare to take off at Los Angeles International Airport on Wednesday after a computer problem with the Federal Aviation Administration grounded all flights in the United States.

(Caroline Cole / Los Angeles Times)

At Los Angeles International Airport, approximately 43% of the schedule has been affected as of 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, according to Heath Montgomery, a spokesman for the airport. He said that from midnight Wednesday until midnight Thursday, 584 internal and external flights were postponed, and 25 flights were cancelled.

“The timing of the outage is important because the appointments are light between midnight and five in the morning,” he said. “In the middle of the day, we started to see a rippling effect” from the disturbances on the East Coast, where most of the delays occurred, he said.

The outage differed from the string of cancellations last month, when a winter storm — and a meltdown at Southwest Airlines — upended travelers’ vacation plans and left them stranded at airports across the country.

“It seems like the airlines are taking the delays and trying to move those flights at some point in exchange for canceling them outright,” Montgomery said.

The domestic departures area in Terminal 5, which serves JetBlue, American and Spirit lines, appeared normal and orderly on Wednesday morning. Airmen waited in quiet lines to check in, passengers scurried through their wheeled suitcases into the terminal and a handful of passengers sat on the floor, heads down and earphones on, with bags stacked next to them.

Huyen Nguyen and her boyfriend, Son Nguyen, pushed a trolley with their bags through LAX’s Terminal 5 toward the Spirit Airlines ticket office Wednesday morning. They were on their way to the airport when they learned that their 10:45 a.m. flight to Detroit was delayed until noon, which would have a domino effect on their itinerary and cause them to miss their connecting flight in Las Vegas, Huyen Nguyen, 24, said.

They rebooked our nonstop flight at 4:45pm for free. The couple, who learned of the delay from the Spirit Airlines app, originally thought the disruptions were weather-related after days of storms ravaged California.

“I hope this trip is not too late, because it looks like it already is [pushed back]Huyen Nguyen said. “I just hope it lasts that long.”

Murnali Sheth sat cross-legged at a table by a window surrounded by her family and several baggage carts while she and her sister-in-law, who were flying to Mumbai, India, with a connection in New York, re-arranged their itinerary. They heard about the FAA outage on the car radio as they drove to LAX from their Buena Park home around 7:15 a.m., but they just checked their flights: Everything was on time, Sheth said.

However, when they reached LAX, Sheth discovered that JetBlue’s flight to New York was delayed by nearly three hours, causing them to miss the Etihad Airways flight to Mumbai. The help desk agent tried, but in the end Sheth’s family had to call customer service. After several hours, the women stopped the other flights, with the first departing at midnight. Sheth said that neither Jet Blue nor the Federation attacked them.

Sheth, who was going to Mumbai to visit her father, said, “I will have one less day, but it is not in my hands.” It was a headache for her sister-in-law, Sheth said, who was busy on the phone and had a busy itinerary in India.

Other lucky flyers have appeared. Kathy Kane was traveling to Austin, Texas at 12:18 PM on an American Airlines flight to see her younger sister, who is terminally ill. Her gate changed hands several times, but her flight was on schedule.

“I’m glad my flight wasn’t canceled, because I have to get there,” said Kane, 76, a former flight attendant from Glendale.

Ontario International Airport reported nine departures and 12 arrivals with delays of 30 to 40 minutes, said Steve Lambert, a spokesman for Ontario International Airport. He said Southwest, Alaska, United and Hawaiian airlines were among those experiencing disruptions.

“We don’t have flights that early in the morning, so we may not have been affected as much,” said Lambert.

According to airport spokespeople, curfews at John Wayne and Long Beach airports spared facilities the brunt of the failure.

However, the sites felt the turmoil.

Four outbound flights at Long Beach Airport have been canceled due to the failure, airport spokeswoman Kate Kuykendall said. As of 5 p.m. Wednesday, FlightAware showed 39 total delays at the airport. “We feel good about the rest of the day and tomorrow,” Kuykendall said.

John Wayne Airport also reported minimal disturbances on Wednesday. The first outbound flight left at 7 am, said Anna Sofia Cervin, a spokeswoman for the airport.

This morning all flights took off [from John Wayne] Cervin said. Cervin said there were some delays in terms of arrival that also affected departure schedules during the day.

“I have not received any reports or preparations for receiving flights later than the curfew allows,” Servin said.

Hollywood Burbank Airport has had 18 cancellations and 60 delays, said spokesman Mike Christensen, but operations have been normal otherwise.

The FAA had ordered all flights departing as early as Wednesday morning grounded, but lifted that order shortly before 6 a.m. several hours later.

Alert decisions affected nearly all aircraft, including cargo and passenger flights. Most of the delays were concentrated along the East Coast, but on social media, travelers reported delayed or delayed flights at airports across the country, including LAX.

The chaos is expected to grow as backups build up. More than 21,000 flights were scheduled to take off in the United States on Wednesday, most of them domestic flights, and about 1,840 international flights are expected to go to the United States, according to flight data firm Cirium.

Airports in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and Atlanta saw delays of between 30% and 40% of flights.

“We’ll see the cascading effects from that, the delays this morning through the system during the day,” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in an interview with CNN. “Now we have to understand how this could have happened in the first place. Why the usual verbosity that would have kept him from being this disruptive didn’t stop him from being disruptive this time.”

Those in the aviation business long ago could not recall an outage of this magnitude due to the breakdown in technology. Some have compared it to the nationwide closure of airspace after the terrorist attacks of September 2001.

“There have been periodic domestic issues here or there, but historically this is very important,” said Tim Campbell, American Airlines’ senior vice president of air operations and now a Minneapolis-based advisor.

The FAA said it is continuing to investigate the cause of the initial problem.

The US Army Air Mobility Command’s flights were not affected.

Biden said Wednesday morning that Buttigieg had told him about it.

“I just spoke to Buttigieg. They don’t know what the reason is. But I’ve been on the phone with him for about 10 minutes,” Biden said. “I told him to report to me directly when they find out.”

Buttigieg told CNN that the order to halt all outbound flights was done out of an abundance of caution, but that mass disruption of US air travel is unacceptable.

“We need to design a system that doesn’t have these kind of vulnerabilities,” Buttigieg said.

Times staff writer Terry Castleman and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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