Topic of the Week: Earthquakes


We might be used to quakes on the west coast, but the one in Virginia this week took a lot of people out there by surprise. Anyone have any good air travel stories surrounding the quake? Were you delayed or canceled? Were people unnecessarily freaking out?

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16 comments on “Topic of the Week: Earthquakes

  1. I remember landing in Santiago, Chile a week after the earthquakes there. Airport terminal was unusable due to collapsed ceiling tiles and gantries. Airport was operating out of temporary tents. Baggage handling was a row of suitcases on the ground beside the aircraft at the bottom of the steps. Customs and immigration were folding tables in a marquee tent. The entire distance from bottom of plane steps to the taxi rank was about 100yards and the whole process took 15 minutes. The best arrival experience I’ve had in 20 years of business travel. So I was left wondering – why build an airport at all?

  2. After the most recent Earthquake, an inbound flight diverted due to the destination Airport’s closure and subsequent ground stop. When the flight was released, seven Passengers refused to re-board.
    They were afraid to fly in case there was another Earthquake.

  3. I still want to know how people who might have been on the east coast but were from the west coast, Japan, Indonesia, etc were reacting to how the easterns were reacting.

    Anyone standing around calm would not have been local and would have had a confused look on their face as to why locals were running in fear for their lives for a 5.8.

  4. I was at home (outside DC) when the earthquake hit but no airline stories to report. I know the folks at BOS got to see an Emirates A380 which is pretty cool.

    However, Sunday we’re getting weather from Hurricane Irene, so I may have a flight story for you then :)

  5. I flew through IAD the day after the earthquake and everything seemed to be running as normal. Apart from the TVs and people talking about it, you wouldn’t be able to tell that there was one.
    Maybe other airports were affected differently, but thankfully, the earthquake seemed to have not that much impact on flights and such.

  6. I live in DC and had a flight from STL-ATL-DCA…the ONE and only time I fly from STL with a connecting flight, and the one time I take Airtran, something happens. We were on the runway for about 20 minutes and didn’t take off when the pilot says there was an earthquake near DC and we can’t take off because the airport was closed.

    About 45 minutes later we head back to the gate and some supervisor says there is damage to the runway (not true) and we’re cancelling this flight. I’m waiting in the terminal reading the news and listening to WTOP in DC and the news and radio both said the airports never closed. There were also planes arriving and departing as close as 10 minutes after the quake according to DCA’s webpage. This was a few minutes after I saw our flight crew leaving the airport. 10 minutes later a Delta flight took off for DCA. They got another plane to take off at 7am the next morning so, I just got a hotel room. If I had taken the normal non-stop flight I should have been on the ground right before it happened.

    It’s funny how everytime I try to complain about being lied to, the customer service line just keeps ringing. Not mad about the flight being cancelled just about being lied to for no apparent reason.

    1. Banding about the word lying in situations like this is not appropriate. Misinformed? Yes. But in emergency situations conflicting information can start flying around pretty quickly. The Delta folks probably got a different bit of information. The Airtran folks probably cancelled the flight based on wrong info, but if you asked them half an hour later they would’ve sent the flight on.

      Passengers can’t have it both ways, either they’re going to get immediate decisions that they sometimes don’t like, or they’re going to have to wait a bit to get the right decision.

  7. Was in the security line at DCA when it happened. None of the people in the security line really freaked out, and they started screening again 1-2 mins. after the quake itself. There were some screams and loud gasps from the ticketing level, but no one seemed too crazed. In the couple of minutes after the earthquake, there were tons of alarms going off in the airport, presumably from jet bridges that had shaken open gate doors and such, but those were turned off quickly.

    It was funny to watch the media. I was in the Admirals Club and watched the local news report a DCA shutdown and FAA shutdown; during this report, I watched planes take off and land from DCA. AA sent an agent in to say that although the airport sustained no damage, the FAA was closing the tower for a few minutes to check for structural damage; however, during the period it was supposed to close, planes kept landing and taking off.

    My AA flight had been delayed that morning; I’d received 3 automated AA messages prior to arriving at DCA. When we boarded, however, the captain apologized for the delay and attributed it to the quake.

  8. Well, my office in Alexandria, VA shook…the two of us who knew earthquakes figured out very quickly what was happening, while the ones who didn’t were looking kind of bewildered. The big concern is that many buildings are very old brick construction and were not designed to roll with it as are most new buildings in more earthquake-prone zones. There was some damage, but for the most part, people just left work early, got into traffic jams (my 1.5 hour commute took over 4 hours), and made it home without too many problems.

  9. I am from the Bay Area, and was sitting in LaGuardia eating lunch, waiting for a flight to RDU. We definitely felt it, watched the doors and fixtures rattle and sway; but it was somewhat of a “non event” in my opinion (having been through the Alaska Earthquake and at Candlestick in SF); no delays, the airport didn’t miss a beat. Interesting to listen to others in the restaurant call loved ones and tell them how bad it was, etc. Yawn……. were we really sitting next to each other? I would be much more concerned about Irene circling the area deciding when/where/whether or not to come ashore…

  10. I think this is a good “wake-up” call for the folks esat of the Missisippi. I have visited New Madrid, Mo. which was the epa centre of the great 1812 – 13 earthquakes which were felt for hundreds of miles around. Those folks in the east have no idea how bad a major earthquake can really be. At this point it is too late to retrofit all the infrastructure (i.e. airports) to avoid major destruction or a high death toll. That’s just the reality of things. I do know that most experts are predicting a MAJOR earthquake of the New Madrid type at any time now. That could be today or in 100 years. I think that some airports will be closed for weeks or months and passengers will have to be bussed or drive to functioning facilities. The whole U.S. flight system will have to be re-thought and re-routed for a long while. Buses will be in high demand and heavy use to move passenger between cities and airports. That is the way I see it.

    And Brett, Since the big Long Beach earthquake of the ’30’s (which devastated Long Beach) the local building codes have been strengthened, but a big quake in your zone could have a major impact in all forms of tranportation; land, sea and air. Man can only do so much to minimize the rath of Mother Nature.

  11. We were dropping off a rental car at MKE to return to DC at the moment the earthquake struck…but of course didn’t hear about it until we were walking through the terminal and saw it on TV in the bar. We received emails from friends and family along the eastern seaboard asking if we were okay (not knowing we weren’t in town) and they describing their own situations. Anyway, our Frontier flight to DCA remained “on time” up until the normal time to board, when they finally decided to delay…but we never heard the cause of the delay. It took much internet news searching to find one brief news piece saying Terminal A (where Frontier arrives) was closed because someone smelled gas. Long story short, we departed an hour late and arrived to an otherwise normal looking airport. While waiting for the car, I asked the officer about panedemonium in the airport (knowing how DC reacts to anything but sun and 72 degrees), and he dramatically described the chaos of having to evacuate the terminal. I agree with one of the other posters…not alot of accurate news (including airport closures) made it out there. Good news is that there was NO traffic at 6:30pm because the city and surrounding suburbs had already gone home!!

  12. I’m from Seattle, WA. I had to fly SEA-IAD a few days after the 2001 Nisqually Earthquake that measured 6.8 and blew out the glass on the control tower at SEA, temporarily shutting the airport down until a temporary control facility could be brought online.

    When we flew out that week (2 or 3 days after the quake), the Captain told us we could expect a very, VERY long delay waiting for takeoff due to the long lineup resulting from the temporary tower’s reduced capacity. He turned the aircraft while taxiing to show us, and I counted 18 planes in line ahead of us. Not a huge deal for some airports, but an unusually long delay for SEA.

    Here’s the kicker: The ATC folks from SEA sent a piece of the glass that broke in the 2001 earthquake at SEA the DC headquarters of the National Association of Air Traffic Controllers as a souvenir.

    That piece of glass broke in this week’s East Coast earthquake! The only thing damaged at the ATC Associaton’s headquarters, according to the organization’s Mike Church, was that piece of glass:

    “Interesting tidbit about the East Coast earthquake today,” Church wrote. “The only thing that fell and broke during the quake here this afternoon at the NATCA HQ building in Washington, D.C.: A piece of glass that our Sea-Tac members gave us from the old SEA tower that was heavily damaged in the February 2001 Seattle earthquake!”

    Story at KOMO Seattle:

  13. HI cranky! I was in El Salvador 1999 when Comalapa Airport shook. After the quake our airplane took off only to turn around because the navigation system was not working, When we landed, i noticed a huge crack on the runway or should i say thru it. Needless to say ive been there and back many times and there was no more cracks.

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