September 26, 2017

‘It’s like the end of the world’ inside San Juan’s steaming airport

Airlines, which have canceled dozens of flights over the past week, began commercial flights to the U.S. on Friday. Passengers wait in long lines inside terminals running on backup generators with no air conditioning. Many have spent the night inside the steamy terminals, hoping for a chance to leave.

“It’s like the end of the world,” said Andrew Arteaga, who spent five nights at the airport with his wife, Marjet Mendez, and 8-month-old daughter, Ayla.

The family had been trying to return to Orange County, Calif., but had several Delta Air Lines flights canceled before finding a United flight, which Arteaga said the airline offered for free.

Airlines began commercial flights out of San Juan on Friday, starting with just two flights a day per airline. The storm knocked out the control tower’s radar system, forcing pilots to fly to the island using “visual confirmation,” a trickier method that takes longer for planes to land and takeoff, said Elvis Perez, a service clerk for American Airlines.

About 300 airline employees were flown in from Miami to assist in everything from baggage handling to ticketing, he said. But with the computer system still down, reservations had to be confirmed with phone calls to Miami.