EHS grad glad to be home for the holidays

By on December 20, 2017

Mackenzie Ruth was one of thousands stranded at blacked-out airport

Atlanta’s busy airport plunged into darkness causing more than 1,300 canceled flights Sunday and Monday which left thousands stranded or delayed.

One of those affected, Mackenzie Ruth of Ephrata, finally made it to Philadelphia airport Monday afternoon — about 22 hours after her scheduled time.

“I think I’m allergic to Atlanta,” she said, referring to another delayed trip at the Delta Airlines hub and busiest airport in the country.

“Nothing I’ve been through traveling compares to this,” said Mackenzie, a special needs teacher who graduated in 2017 from St. Francis University in Pennsylvania.

Traveling back from a weekend wedding in Tennessee, she had a brief layover in Atlanta Sunday. She arrived early for her flight planning to eat for the first time that day at the airport.

“I got there at 12:40 for a 1:20 (connecting) flight,” she said. “ I hadn’t eaten yet but I figured I’d use the bathroom first. While I was in there the lights went out.”

Mackenzie initially thought somebody had absentmindedly turned the lights off.

“But when I washed my hands I noticed the soap wasn’t dispensing,” she said. “When I came back out in the airport all of the lights were off.”

She went back to her departure gate and “all hell broke loose.”

The power outage knocked out jet bridges, which are used to board and unload passengers; airport screens and concession stands, among other things.

While some outside light shone through the windows and emergency generator lights were on, it became darker and darker as the day went on. No one was permitted to move

“Once 6:00 (p.m.) hit, it was pitch black; it was awful,” Mackenzie said.

To make matters worse, she couldn’t eat because restaurants and airport shops accepted cash only and she had none. Airport workers did eventually distribute bottled water and pretzels.

Compounding the bleak conditions, her phone had 20 percent charge when she arrived at the airport.

“By that time I was too stressed to eat anyway,” she said. “There was a pilot at my gate who allowed me to use his charger and I got it up to 70 percent.”

But the charged phone couldn’t connect to a cell tower and Mackenzie wasn’t able to call her parents Michelle and Todd Ruth, the Ephrata Review Sports Editor.

“No one could use their phones because everyone was trying to use them at the same time,” Mackenzie said.

What was most annoying was the lack of communication from airport officials, she said.

“It seemed like the public outside knew more than the people stranded in the darkened airport,” she said. “It was so unorganized, draining and chaotic.”

Some people who landed at the airport just after 1 p.m. were still on the plane four hours later.

Unlike many other passengers, Mackenzie was able to avoid spending the night in the dark airport after Atlanta-bound flights diverted to other airports Sunday.

After being confined and unable to move freely, airport officials suddenly evacuated her terminal as people were forced to leave the airport and find a place to go. Some made it to hotels that quickly reached capacity.

“Luckily my friend from college who just moved there (Atlanta) came to pick me up,” she said.

She spent the night there but remained too stressed to eat. Her next meal wouldn’t come until Monday evening at her parents when Michelle made a chicken/spinach/mustard dish.

There was a buzz among those stranded in the darkness about what had caused the power outage. Officially, airport officials blamed the power outage on an underground fire.

There was definitely a concern among those stranded about a possible terrorist connection.

“I’m a worrier and I always think of the worst,” she said. “When the lights went out when I was in the bathroom I sent a Snapchat photo asking ‘Is ISIS here?’

She noted that people questioned why only a small section of Atlanta by the airport were affected by the power outage.

“It was scary, obviously there was no security that we could see,” she said. “We were trapped in our concourse for eight hours.”

Mackenzie got into her friend’s car at about 9 p.m. and then returned to the airport Monday morning at 5 a.m., having no idea when she’d catch a flight to Philadelphia.

She finally met her father, who had waited patiently for a few hours, at Philadelphia International Airport at about 1:30.

“The worst travel experiences I’ve had with airports happen in Atlanta,” she said. “This time it was scariest because I was by myself.”

Her father Todd noted Mackenzie initially had the opportunity to take a direct flight home from Tennessee for an extra $20 ticket charge.

“And then I paid more than the $20 because I had a $30 Uber (Monday) morning back to the airport,” she said. “But nobody would ever expect this to happen.”

Patrick Burns is social media editor and staff writer for The Ephrata Review. He welcomes your questions and comments and can be reached at pburns.eph@lnpnews.com or at 721-4455.

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