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Port Authority moves to avoid snowstorm chaos at Kennedy Airport

Luggage at Kennedy Airport's Terminal 4 at the

Luggage at Kennedy Airport's Terminal 4 at the baggage carousel area on Jan. 8, a day after flooding. Credit: Uli Seit

The operator of Kennedy Airport in Queens is implementing new procedures to prevent a recurrence of the chaos that occurred during a snowstorm in January, when incoming flights were unable to get to gates.

The most significant change will require that during a weather emergency, airlines must certify in advance that a gate will be available when the plane lands, the Port Authority said Monday.

A strong winter storm, dubbed a “bomb cyclone,” that battered the East Coast in early January stranded many passengers at Kennedy.

As planes backed up on runways and taxiways, the Port Authority at one point halted all inbound flights.

Thousands of passengers were delayed, shuttled on and off planes and lost track of their baggage.

A shortage of equipment and airport employees left baggage piling up, and a water pipe in one terminal burst several days after the storm and soaked some of the unclaimed luggage.

In the future, the operators of separate terminals will have to have a centralized baggage office to coordinate baggage handling if individual airlines cannot cope with problems, the Port Authority said.

The changes announced Monday also included plans to hire heavy-duty buses for employees at key gathering points during storms, and reserving area hotel rooms for essential employees.

The airport also “will acquire additional high-speed snow removal equipment to improve its performance in future storms,” the Port Authority said.

After the storm, the Port Authority said former U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood would lead a probe into how the problems developed and how to avoid them in the future. LaHood has not yet issued a final report.

“The measures announced today represent another critical step to enhance performance at JFK in future winter storms,” Port Authority aviation director Huntley Lawrence said in a news release.

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