Travel | September 26, 2017 10:13 am

Inside San Juan’s Airport, Where Thousands of Desperate People Wait

Dozens of flights have been cancelled over the past week because of the hurricane.

Thousands of hopeful people have gathered inside Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport in San Juan, Puerto Rico, desperate to catch a flight off the storm-ravaged island. But airlines have canceled dozens of flights over the past week, and passengers wait in long lines inside terminals that have no air conditioning, reports USA TodayMany have even slept at the airport, hoping to catch a chance to leave.

“It’s like the end of the world,” said Andrew Arteaga to USA Today. He spent five nights at the airport with his wife, Marjet Mendez, and 8-month-old daughter, Ayla. Several Delta Air Lines flights canceled on the family before they were able to get on a United flight, which Arteaga said the airline offered for free.

Arteaga told USA Today that they were never even offered water during their wait.

“No A/C, no nothing, we’re just sweating in here. They don’t even give us water,” he said to USA Today. “None of this is right.”

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On Friday, airlines began commercial flights out of San Juan, but there were only two flights a day per airline. The storm knocked out the control tower’s radar system, USA Today reports, so pilots had to fly to the island using “visual confirmation.” This method is harder, and it takes longer for planes to land and take off, said Elvis Perez, a service clerk for American Airlines, to USA Today. 

The computer system is still down, so reservations had to be confirmed with phone calls to Miami. About 300 airline employees were flown in from Miami to assist, USA Today reports.

Near the American airlines counter, a line of passengers stretched “nearly the entire length of the darkened Terminal B. Many people fanned themselves with cardboard or tried to cool their babies down with sprinkles of water. Airline employees used camping lights to check IDs, writes USA Today. When the lights started working again on Monday morning, USA Today reports that the crowds cheered.

An FAA spokesperson, Gregory Martin, said that recovery efforts in Puerto Rico now support a dozen commercial passenger flights a day from San Juan’s airport. The number of flights is expected to increase as the agency restores radars, navigational aids and other equipment that was damaged by Hurricane Maria.

The FAA also airlifted a mobile air-traffic control tower to St. Thomas during the weekend because the island’s tower at Cyril King International Airport had been damaged during Hurricane Irma. Pilots flying into St. Thomas must be able to see the airfield to land, reports USA Today, instead of relying on instruments to guide them.

For now, everyone in San Juan’s airport is just waiting to board that next flight.