140 Passengers Get Stranded On JFK AirTrain, No One Notices

I once got stuck in an elevator with a few other people, several of whom began to panic after not getting an immediate response. So I can only imagine the panic felt by some of the 140 people stuck for nearly two hours on the AirTrain elevated rail system at JFK International Airport before anyone at the airport did anything about it.

According to the NY Times, the problem began at 5:33 p.m. on Saturday, when a computer malfunction brought the system down.

Passengers say an announcement over the P.A. system said the train would be moving shortly, but both tension and temperatures began to boil over as no one responded to passengers’ calls.

“[E]ven after repeatedly pressing [the emergency intercom button], nobody would speak to us,” one passenger tells the Times. “It was now getting warm, and near an hour and a half of waiting.”

The Port Authority, which operates the airport, is pointing the finger at Bombardier, the unfortunately named company that operates the AirTrain, saying that Bombardier did not immediately notify anyone at the airport about the problem (though you’d think someone at JFK might notice that the trains had been stopped for more than an hour without having to be told).

“[A]s soon as we became aware that there were stranded passengers, we dispatched Port Authority Police to evacuate them from the trains,” an airport rep explains. He says the Port Authority wasn’t told until 105 minutes after the system had shut down.

A Bombardier rep tells the Times that his company actually told the airport about a problem around 30 minutes after it happened, but he wasn’t sure how long it was until Bombardier thought to mention that the passengers were completely stranded.

Police were dispatched to lead people off the trains and along the elevated tracks to safety and buses were used to ferry those passengers and others put out by the system shutdown.

The problems were eventually linked back to a loose wire in the AirTrain’s main computer and the trains were back up and running at 10:18 p.m.

140 Passengers Stranded Aboard Trains to J.F.K.

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  1. Coffee says:

    Jesus…I’m so happy nothing like this has happened to me. I’m not claustrophobic in the least, but there’s added stress when you’re travelling, especially when checked bags and/or connecting flights are involved. I’m already a bundle of nerves until I get to the gate, and I don’t know how bad my psychotic break would be if I were stuck in a confined space while my flight left without me.

    • HogwartsProfessor says:

      Me too, and I have 55 minutes to make my connecting flight in O’Hare on Friday, and I’m really really really really sorry I read this story now.

      • axhandler1 says:

        Ugh, sorry Hogwarts :( O’Hare is the worst place to try and make connections. I found that out the hard way.

    • spamtasticus says:

      Happened to me at MIA. The difference is that the emergency intercom did not work. I had to call the airport with my cellphone to get me and the 20 or so others off the damn train. When someone finally came we where all cooking in the sun and he told us we had to wait because we had not crossed customs yet. I kept explaining to him that we all came from a flight from Toronto where we already crossed US customs but he kept ignoring me. Finally we all told him to open the door or we would open it for him ad he finally did so and “escorted” us to the terminal. On the walk back I noticed that every single fire extinguisher on the walk along the monorail platform (it was rather wide and safe) had a fire extinguisher that was so covered with rust it could not possibly have ever worked. I’m glad we are spending our money on the TSA show instead of this sort of thing.

      • GitEmSteveDaveHatesChange says:

        I wonder why no one else did this? After the first call where no one answered, I would have called the airport directly, or, if in NJ/NY, the PANJ/NY.

  2. SerenityDan says:

    The Post Office at my work does this constantly, except they deliver it a week later not the next day.

  3. There's room to move as a fry cook says:

    Why is Bombardier an “unfortunately named company”?

  4. Walker66 says:

    You can’t say “Bombardier” without saying “Bomb” and you can’t say “Bomb” at the airport. Maybe that’s why it took so long.

    • elangomatt says:

      I thought you were going for “Meet the Parents” reference there and thought you screwed it up. But then I realized you were being serious.

  5. nopirates says:

    unfortunately EVERYTHING in NYC that is funded by public money is in a horrific state of disrepair, so not surprised

  6. twritersf says:

    Because the people you hire can’t count?

  7. dush says:

    Why would it take 30 mins for Bomberdear to realize a train isn’t moving? Sound like they are very incompetent.

    • erinpac says:

      Sounds more like it took 30 minutes for them to own up to it, not necessarily just to notice.
      “Joseph Osterman, director of operations and maintenance for Bombardier, said he spoke with the Port Authority a half-hour after the shutdown, but did not know what time he told the authority that trains were stranded.” So, they were evasive, not blind, I guess.

  8. Tim says:

    Could they have just evacuated? Those trains are required to have doors that can open in emergencies, then walkways along the tracks so you can actually get off the elevated structure safely.

    It would suck, of course, but at least you wouldn’t be on the train.

    • RadarOReally has got the Post-Vacation Blues says:

      Except, how are you to know when a train might start and whooooosh by you, knocking you off? Or that the train might start while you’re trying to step off? Or that the problem is caused by a fallen cable a hundred feet away that’s electrified the walkway? And while I’m sure there are safety mechanisms that stop the train from moving when a door is open under normal operating conditions, I would not mess with a train that’s obviously broken to get on or off unless I’d been told that it was safe to do so.

  9. Captain Spock says:

    Here is a good Bombardier joke…

    Incoming………………… LAWSUITS!

  10. axhandler1 says:

    I wish the stranded passangers had taken it on themselves to smash a window, fashion a rope out of clothes tied together, and escape on their own. Hopefully into some section of the terminal where they are not authorized to be. I’ll bet that would have gotten a response pretty quickly.

    • Captain Spock says:

      They should have started a Hunger Games/Battle Royale style competition at the beginning of Hour 2

      • axhandler1 says:

        Props for referencing both movies, and not just the Hunger Games. Although I just finished the Hunger Games books this weekend, and they are worth reading, IMO.

    • nybiker says:

      As I recall, they were stranded on a part of the AirTrain where it is above the Van Wyck Expressway; that is, they were nowhere in the airport.
      Other than that, I think your idea is spot on.

      • axhandler1 says:

        Well, they probably would not have wanted to escape onto the Van Wyck, in that case. Not the safest of disembarkment locales.

  11. AtlantaCPA says:

    I got stuck on the elevator at work a couple of years back, riding up from getting my lunch so I had food with me and wasn’t too worried. Me and the other guy on there were like “Oh, ok, let’s push the talk button to let them know.” The lady at security who we called was way more worked up than we were. We told her we were stuck and she was like “Whatever you do, DO NOT PANIC!” She kept coming on the line to tell us in a frantic voice the status of the repair/rescue crew. It was about 10 minutes of amusement listening to her freak out before we were out of there.

    • Fubish says: I don't know anything about it, but it seems to me... says:

      Hee hee. I got stuck in the office elevator near the 20th floor – I pushed the intercom button and the security guard said help would be coming soon and told me three times in no uncertain terms to, “STAY WHERE YOU ARE!” Ooooooookay!

    • JollySith says:

      Working in a Hotel and reception center 10 years ago I was working on a Sunday morning when I got a call from a stuck elevator. The Bride and 2 of her bridesmaids were stuck. 15 minutes until the wedding was supposed to start and the repair company was only 3 hours away. By the time they got there none of us wanted the doors opened anymore. We (the employees) wanted them to keep her in there another hour or so until shift change so we could get out of there.

  12. TinaBringMeTheAx says:

    So is Bombardier on the hook for all those re-booking fees?

    I sure hope so!

  13. krunk4ever says:

    It’s not just a rogue driver. This has happened to me twice already.

    The first time this happened, I talked with Amazon customer service and they sent me a replacement package. I ended up getting 2 because the original order was delivered the next day.

    The 2nd time this happened, I found out Amazon actually knows about what OnTrac is doing and told me that often times OnTrac would mark a delivery as delivered when the package arrives at its terminal station. She told me that if the package doesn’t arrive on the following day or 2, to contact Amazon again and a replacement package will be sent.

    And of course it shows up the following day.

    • krunk4ever says:

      Sorry, please ignore above comment.

      Apparently after logging in when trying to comment, a different article was loaded in its place instead of the article I was trying to comment on.

  14. Michael Belisle says:

    Let’s all watch this guy stuck in a high-rise tower elevator for 40 hours. Spoiler alert: he starts gnawing his leg to survive about 32 hours in. It’s pretty gruesome.

  15. nandhp says:

    > “[E]ven after repeatedly pressing [the emergency intercom button], nobody would speak to us,”

    This is when you use your cell phone to call the police.

  16. Cerne says:

    ” Bombardier, the unfortunately named company that operates the AirTrain”

    Wait what?