Austin airport evacuated after fire alarm goes off, causing delays

Austin American-Statesman
Austin American-Statesman

Austin-Bergstrom International Airport was evacuated at about 7:30 a.m. Wednesday after airport officials said a fire alarm went off in the main Barbara Jordan terminal, creating significant delays for passengers who were forced to wait outside the terminal and faced long lines back through the security checkpoints when the airport reopened.

The alarm was triggered by a water line break outside the building where planes park to load and unload passengers, according to airport spokesperson Sam Haynes. Passengers and staff were evacuated out of an abundance of caution while the alarm was investigated, Haynes said. The cause of the break is still being investigated, Haynes said.

More: Still struggling to keep up, Austin airport tells travelers to arrive 2.5 hours before flights

The airport announced about 8 a.m. that the fire alarm was canceled and passengers would be able to reenter the building and be rescreened through security. However, some travelers said they weren't able to get back into the terminal until 8:30 a.m. or later, and then had to go through the airport's security process, which faced long delays due to the evacuation.

The Austin Police Department and airport staff were working to get passengers back into the terminal as quickly as possible while still following safety protocol, Haynes said. She said passengers were moved into the airport's parking structure to begin the process of reentering the building.

Passengers who were evacuated into the outdoor area where planes dock to pick people up — called the apron — had to be escorted through the terminal and back outside to where other passengers are waiting. Airport policy says that passengers who leave the building have to be rescreened by the Transportation Security Administration before coming back inside.

More: Legal fight raging as Austin wants to raze airport's South Terminal to make way for expansion

“There's a lot of people and they all have to be rescreened through TSA. It’s the reason why we evacuated them in the first place, safety comes first,” Haynes said. “We're just asking passengers who are there like on-site at the airport to just follow staff directions.”

Haynes said airport officials also put out a call to staff members who do not usually interact with passengers to come to the terminal and help direct lines and answer questions to make the re-entry process run more smoothly. Some passengers caught in the evacuation reported their second time passing through security only took about 30 minutes.

For some travelers, the delay means the risk of missing connections and further disrupted travel plans. Stephen Arriaga was flying to Houston on Southwest Airlines with his wife and three kids, and then on to their final destination of Costa Rica for vacation.

“It was very disorganized,” he said of the evacuation process. “Even the emergency exits weren’t marked well.”

Once outside, Arriaga said confusion reigned, even among TSA agents and various airport personnel. He also said there was no place for elderly passengers or disabled people to sit.

Once back inside, Arriaga said he had no idea if he would make his flight to Houston or his connecting flight.

“We have no idea what will happen,” he said.

Haynes said airlines would adjust their flight schedules to accommodate the delays caused by the alarm.

Passengers who have flights scheduled later today should check online for potential new flight times before leaving for the airport, she said.

Before the alarm went off, the airport was having a quiet morning without long lines. Austin-Bergstrom has been struggling with crowding issues this year as the facility struggles to accommodate growing demand for travel .

Haynes said the airport was back to normal lines and operations by about 9:30 a.m.

This article originally appeared on Austin American-Statesman: Austin airport evacuated after fire alarm goes off, causing delays

Comments / 0

Comments / 0