It’s normal for a heavy winter storm to cause flight issues, but JFK Airport in New York had more problems than normal. Here’s why that was the case.

Former U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood will investigate what went wrong at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport last week, and what management called an “unacceptable” recovery that took days after the storm.

LaHood will begin next week investigating all the problems that stacked up, including contingency planning before the storm struck Jan. 4, the authority’s management, the closure and reopening of the airport, and baggage handling, the authority announced Wednesday.

LaHood is expected to issue a report of his findings and recommendations within months, but interim suggestions could come sooner.

“The Port Authority is committed to providing the highest standard of service to all travelers, and the series of events following the winter storm this month were completely unacceptable,” said Rick Cotton, the authority’s executive director. “We are committed to understanding where and why failures occurred, and making whatever changes are necessary to assure these failures never happen again.”

More about JFK’s difficulties during the winter storm:

Why was New York’s JFK Airport such a mess for so long after the storm?

Water main break delays flights at New York’s beleaguered JFK airport

East Coast airline headaches continue with 1,200 flights canceled Friday

The cascading problems began Jan. 4, when a winter storm closed the airport and canceled hundreds of flights. Dozens of international flights that had already taken off from Europe and Asia were diverted to other airports, which created congestion after the airport reopened Jan. 5.

Unusually cold weather froze equipment, which led to problems with baggage handling. As flights were delayed, thousands of bags stacked up.

On Jan. 7, a water pipe broke and flooded Terminal 4, suspending international arrivals again.

Contributing to the chaos was the fact that JFK’s six terminals operate independently, managed either by a dominant airline such as American Airlines in Terminal 8 or by an outside group. The arrangement generally means that airlines don’t share gates between terminals.

“The Port Authority leadership has asked me to lead a comprehensive investigation into the recent events at JFK Airport, looking at every aspect of what went wrong and making recommendations about what must be fixed,” LaHood said.

LaHood, a senior advisor at DLA Piper law firm, served as transportation secretary during the first term of the Obama administration from 2009 to 2013. He previously served as a Republican member of the House from Illinois from 1995 to 2009.


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