D.C., New York flight delays caused by air traffic glitch, FAA says

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A computer problem at a Virginia air traffic control center led to significant flight delays at airports in the Washington and New York City areas, the Federal Aviation Administration said.

A computer problem at a Virginia air traffic control center led to significant flight delays Saturday at airports in the Washington and New York City areas, the Federal Aviation Administration said.

Just after 4 p.m. ET, the FAA tweeted that an automation system that experienced problems was back in service.

“The agency is working w/airlines to return to normal operations,” it tweeted.

An unspecified problem emerged in a computer system that processes flight plans at the Washington Air Route Traffic Control Center in Leesburg, Virginia, and forced the FAA to temporarily halt departures for all planes at the D.C.-area’s three major airports, the agency said.

Flights from at least two Washington-area airports resumed in the early afternoon, said Kimberly Gibbs, spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority.

Passenger Blake Jones from Colorado said he was missing meetings while stuck on a plane that had been diverted to Dulles International Airport. The flight was 30 minutes from landing at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport when the pilot told passengers they were going to land elsewhere and wait until they could continue to their original destination.

“I didn’t know I was claustrophobic until now,” Blake , laughing at his predicament, told CNN after two hours — and counting — on the Dulles tarmac. He said the flight crew distributed water after about 90 minutes and passengers were still in good spirits.

“I’m just disappointed because I paid for a ticket to get to Reagan in a timely manner,” he said. “I had plans for the rest of the day, meetings scheduled that I had to cancel.”

Long delays

The stoppage had a domino effect, pushing back numerous flights.

Passengers reported departure delays of several hours at Reagan. According to the flight-tracking website flightaware.com, 26% of scheduled departures from Reagan had been canceled.

Even a significant number of flights at Raleigh-Durham International, Richmond International and Myrtle Beach International were delayed (not all flights were delayed due to the FAA computer issues).

The problem also affected planes that were in the sky at the time of the computer problem, with “high-altitude traffic” diverted around the center’s airspace, FAA spokeswoman Kathleen Bergen said.

Earlier Saturday, a map on flight-tracking website FlightRadar24.com seemed to illustrate the effect: Very few fights were shown over large parts of North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, and Delaware.

More planes were in the airspace by 1:30 p.m., with planes finally departing Washington-area airports. But planes taking off from the Washington airspace were being kept at an elevation of 10,000 feet or lower, images from FlightRadar24.com showed.

Major airlines acknowledged the East Coast delays.

“We have to make last-minute adjustments to flight plans,” Delta Air Lines spokesman Morgan Durrant said. “Flights in and out of the three major D.C.-area airports may be delayed.”

“There is an issue with air traffic control impacting all airlines’ east coast flights. Please plan accordingly,” American Airlines said on Twitter.

The FAA said general delays as of 4:30 p.m. ET included ones of up to two hours, 45 minutes at Dulles.

CNN’s Rene Marsh, Kevin Bohn and Sarah Jorgensen contributed to this report.

By Simon Hernandez-Arthur, Mayra Cuevas and Jason Hanna

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