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Luggage system breakdown delays JFK flights

/ Source: The Associated Press

A software glitch crippled the baggage handling system in an American Airlines terminal at Kennedy Airport on Wednesday, delaying some flights and causing a luggage pileup at the ticket counters.

The malfunction created big problems throughout the day for passengers flying out of Terminal 8, one of the newer buildings at JFK.

Thousands of customers had to leave their luggage behind and hope it would be delivered later. The breakdown was galling to some passengers already steamed over the airline's recent decision to start charging fees for each checked bag on flights within the United States and Canada.

"I'm just not happy. I think it's crazy," said Mike Howell, who was en route to San Diego after visiting New York City. "If they do charge people 15 dollars per bag, they should get it right."

The problem developed at around 4:45 a.m., when a piece of software failed in the computer that reads the bar code on each piece of tagged luggage, and then whisks the bag via conveyor belt to the proper gate.

With the automated system out of service, airline employees were forced to sort each bag by hand. They quickly became overwhelmed by the task.

The airline tried delaying flights for 60 to 90 minutes, hoping that would be enough extra time to get them loaded, but lots of luggage still didn't make it aboard.

The airline's engineers and technicians from the system developer were still working to diagnose the software problem Wednesday afternoon, said airline spokesman Tim Wagner.

Because of the crisis, American waived its fees Wednesday for travelers checking fewer than three bags at JFK. Starting in June, the airline, like most of its competitors, has charged $15 for one checked bag or $40 for two bags. Passengers may still carry on luggage for free.

Wagner noted, however, that a majority of the flights affected by Wednesday's baggage problem were international, and thus not subject to the fees in the first place.

The airline had about 67 scheduled departures at JFK on Wednesday.

Some bags were being diverted to nearby LaGuardia and Newark airports and put on alternative flights.

Wagner said he could offer no immediate estimate on how long it might take the airline to sort through the backlog and get each bag to its proper destination.