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FAA outage causes travel chaos nationwide and leaves passengers ‘frustrated’

"This is insane," said Tashara Chanel White, a nurse heading from North Carolina to Florida. "It pains me to see people with small children and the elderly especially sitting for so long."

A sweeping computer glitch that halted domestic departures early Wednesday left airline passengers confused, frustrated and stranded at airports across the country.

The Notice to Air Missions (NOTAM) system, which pilots rely on for the latest information on airport and airspace closures and safety, had "failed," the Federal Aviation Administration said. Just before 9 a.m., the agency said normal air traffic operations were resuming gradually across the United States.

“The ground stop has been lifted,” the FAA said, noting that the cause of the outage is being investigated.

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More than 4,000 flights were delayed and more than 700 flights were canceled in the U.S. as of 9 a.m., according to FlightAware.com.

Tashara Chanel White, a licensed practical nurse, was supposed to depart from Raleigh-Durham International Airport in North Carolina at 5:20 a.m. to head to Miami and then on to Cartagena, Colombia, but her flight’s captain said they may not depart Wednesday given the outage. 

The news came about five minutes prior to boarding her American Airlines flight while passengers were at the gate, she said.

"This is insane. We were told that there was an outage that happened at 7 p.m. yesterday and they were trying to fix it then. It apparently worsened this morning," White said.

“I am personally bothered with the fact that this was a known problem yesterday and the public wasn’t made aware sooner," she said. "It pains me to see people with small children and the elderly especially sitting for so long and can’t get the care they need. People rely on the convenience of flying, but the hassle is not worth it these days."

She said she saw some flights at the airport taking off, mainly by Delta Airlines and some by American Airlines, in the early morning.

Just before 7:30 a.m., the FAA had tweeted that all airlines were pausing all domestic departures until 9 a.m. ET to “validate the integrity of flight and safety information.” 

Passengers at Orlando International Airport on Wednesday morning.
Passengers at Orlando International Airport on Wednesday morning. Courtesy of Lou Mongello

In New York City, Heather Allen, 32, was watching a movie on her plane and still on the tarmac at John F. Kennedy International Airport when she and other passengers were told to get off the Delta Airlines flight.

She was flying to Seattle with her fiancé to visit her family for a delayed holiday visit and was scheduled to take off at 7:30 a.m.

She learned of the outage by reading the news on Twitter and had been on the plane for about an hour before she had to deplane.

“Trying to be patient, but feeling frustrated,” Allen said. She said the situation at the airport is “not currently chaotic, but could be if delays are longer.”

Lou Mongello, 54, said he and his family were traveling from Orlando International Airport in Florida to Los Angeles to visit Disneyland on Wednesday morning.

“We had just boarded our United flight when I noticed that they had stopped loading passengers,” he said. Mongello said the captain later came over the public address system with the dreaded announcement. 

He “advised of the FAA computer glitch and that we would need to deplane,” Mongello said. After getting off the flight, he received a message from United Airlines apologizing for the delay and providing him and his family with meal vouchers. 

“Everyone at the airport seems to be calm and patient. Fortunately, this happened first thing in the morning, so it is not overwhelmingly crowded,” he said. “I was walking through the terminal past each of the gate, and even people who are standing in line are being incredibly respectful and understanding.”

"The latest update they gave us is that we will hear additional information at 9:30 a.m., but all flights are currently grounded for three hours," he said.

After the ground stop was lifted, Mongello said the pilot announced over the PA system at the gate that boarding would recommence.

Mine Mizrak
Mine Mizrak.Deon Hampton / NBC News

At Denver International Airport, the computer outage delayed Mine Mizrak’s Southwest flight to Los Angeles and forced her to miss her connecting Turkish Airlines flight to her native Istanbul, where she planned on reuniting with family.

Mizrak, a mechanical engineer, moved to Denver last year, leaving behind her mother and other relatives, whom she hasn't seen since.

“I’ve been looking forward to this for the past month,” Mirzak, 25, said.

She said she spent $1,000 on a plane ticket, and she’ll have to pay an additional $500 once she lands in California to ensure she gets home because of her missed flight at LAX.

“I’ve been crying because I could’ve spent that money on something else in Istanbul,” Mizrak said. She said Turkish Airlines won’t reimburse her for the money because the outages didn’t affect international flights.

A Turkish Airlines spokesperson did not immediately respond to an inquiry.