Although power has been restored, some travelers are still struggling to rebook and continue to their final destinations.
Ninoy Aquino International Airport (MNL) is the main gateway for travelers to the Philippines, serving the capital, Manila, and the surrounding area.
The airport’s operating company, the Philippine Civil Aviation Authority (CAAP), said in a statement that the technical issues were first discovered Sunday morning.
282 flights have been delayed, canceled or diverted to other regional airports while some 56,000 passengers have been affected as of 4pm local time on New Year’s Day.
behind the scenes
In a press conference held on Sunday evening, January 1, Philippine Transportation Secretary Jaime Bautista apologized for the inconvenience caused to passengers and said that the airport’s central air traffic control system experienced severe power outages. He added that although there was a backup power supply, it failed to provide enough power.
“This was a problem with the air traffic management system,” Bautista said. “If you compare (our airport) with Singapore airport, there is a big difference – they are at least 10 years ahead of us,” he said.
Bautista added that his Department of Transportation also coordinated with affected airlines to provide food, refreshments, transportation, and accommodations “free of charge to all affected passengers.”
Among the flights affected by the outage was a Manila-bound Qantas flight that departed from Sydney just before 1pm local time on January 1. Back to Australia.
“All airlines were denied access to Manila on Sunday afternoon as local airspace was closed by local authorities,” Qantas said in a statement. “This means that our flight from Sydney will have to turn around.”
Operations have partially resumed as of 5:50 p.m. local time, CAAP said in an update, and that the airport has once again begun accepting incoming flights. A statement from the Ministry of Transport shared on Facebook said airport operations have returned to normal while restoration of equipment is still in progress.
However, flight delays continued through Tuesday for the second day in a row – even after power was fully restored, CNN Philippine affiliate reported. Officials advised travelers to “expect further delays” as airlines scheduled new flights to replace canceled ones.
“Passengers should expect flight delays because this is a result of the recovery operations we’re doing today,” Cielo Villaluna, a spokesperson for Philippine Airlines – the country’s national carrier – told CNN.
It also said that many planes were still stranded as a result of the system issue on New Year’s Day.
Frustrated and tired passengers lamented their loss of what to do while camped out at airline ticket offices for clarification and early flights.
The incident sparked a public backlash online – with many, including politicians, wondering how and why the blackout happened in the first place.
Philippine Senator Grace Poe announced an official investigation into the incident. “There must be transparency and accountability from the coalition,” Bo said.
“So we will conduct a hearing as part of the Senate’s oversight function to determine who is responsible, and what we need to do to avoid the malfunction happening again,” Bo added.
Global air travel has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, but passenger traffic is slowly recovering, with industry experts predicting the industry will return to previous normal levels by 2025.
Photos and videos shared online showed huge crowds at NAIA. Zigzagging lines are seen at many check-in desks. Several passengers were also seen lugging their luggage as they huddled around the flight arrival screens, awaiting updates.
“Six hours of useless flying,” he said. “The inconvenience to travelers and the loss to tourism and business is appalling.” Pangilinan said his plane eventually landed in Manila at 11 p.m. local time.
Student Xavier Fernandez was one of thousands of people affected by the turmoil of a New Year’s flight. He spent hours on the phone with United Airlines and other airlines to rebook his flight to San Francisco at a later date. “It was an absolute nightmare.” He told CNN, adding that he had been at the airport for more than 10 hours.
Fernandez also said there were other passengers who boarded their plane Sunday morning before the outage was declared, and who ultimately had to deplane their planes after waiting several hours to board.
The widespread flight disruptions come amid the busy annual end-of-year travel period in the Philippines, which sees large numbers of foreign tourists as well as foreign nationals travel to the country from abroad to celebrate Christmas and New Year, some of the country’s most important holiday celebrations.
Fernandez was in Manila to celebrate Christmas and New Year with his family.
“Literally the worst way to start the year,” he said of the episode.
The airport crisis in the new year also kept many overseas Filipinos away from their flights to destinations such as Hong Kong and Singapore.
Nora dela Cruz, a domestic worker, told CNN her job was “now in limbo” after she failed to return to Hong Kong on Sunday. She, along with other women in the industry, was “discharged” by the delay, she said.
“Lifelong food lover. Avid beeraholic. Zombie fanatic. Passionate travel practitioner.”