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Passengers left waiting at Austin's airport after rare FAA ground stop

People wait in lines with their luggage at the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport.
Nathan Bernier
The Federal Aviation Administration asked all airlines to stop planned flights until 8 a.m. Wednesday while it worked to resolve a system outage.

Most flights out of Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (ABIA) were delayed Wednesday after the Federal Aviation Administration temporarily halted all air traffic in the United States.

ABIA had 235 delayed departures and 38 cancelations, according to the flight tracking site FlightAware. Airport officials say ABIA has been averaging 250 departures a day in January.

The FAA asked airlines to stop all departures Wednesday morning while the federal agency worked to fix a communication system used by pilots, leaving the skies over Austin unusually empty for a weekday morning.

A map view of flights in the sky around Central Texas. Only a couple planes are visible over the green satellite view of Earth.
Planes were strangely absent over Austin this morning, as shown in this flight tracker map at at 6:54 A.M.

The ground stop was lifted just before 8 a.m., but ABIA officials said people should expect delays as airlines work to clear a backlog of flights.

Travelers at Austin's airport were mystified.

"When did the FAA get all of the sudden crazy like this, everything getting canceled?" asked AJ Mancabelli, a guitarist with the Austin band Thunderosa that was heading to Brussels for a European tour.

The band scrambled to get to the airport after American Airlines rebooked them on an earlier flight. Then the rebooked flight was delayed.

"Leaves us more time to sit at the bar," Mancabelli said.

The FAA has not explained what caused the computer meltdown. White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said there was "no evidence of a cyberattack at this point," but added the U.S. Department of Transportation would "conduct a full investigation into the causes."

ABIA spokesperson Bailey Grimmett said people should still check in for their flights and keep an eye on their status through their airline.

"We are still recommending people come to the airport to check in as regular just because we don't know how this will impact flights," she said.

The largest carrier out of ABIA is Southwest, which claims 41% of ticketed seats out of Austin. American Airlines is second with 26%.

Southwest said it would rebook all customers on the next available flight at no extra cost. People who can't travel because their flight was canceled or delayed significantly can get a refund in accordance with the airline's customer service plan.

On Wednesday morning, some delayed passengers were lounging by the ticket counters, taking the slowdown in stride.

"What can you do? Stuff happens," said Austin-area resident Petra Lawrence, whose 11 a.m. flight to North Carolina was delayed by at least an hour. "I'm used to it."

Haya Panjwani is a general assignment reporter, with a focus on Travis County. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on Twitter @hayapanjw.
Nathan Bernier is the transportation reporter at KUT. He covers the big projects that are reshaping how we get around Austin, like the I-35 overhaul, the airport's rapid growth and the multibillion-dollar transit expansion Project Connect. He also focuses on the daily changes that affect how we walk, bike and drive around the city. Got a tip? Email him at Follow him on X @KUTnathan.
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