Miami-Dade County

Passport computer failure traps hundreds in line at MIA — and then runway’s lights go out

It was a bad night Sunday at Miami International Airport.

First, a computer failure in the passport-control system forced hundreds of international travelers to wait much longer than usual, creating lines that snaked back far beyond the entry hall.

And then, the lights went out — outside, on the runways.

“There are lights out that are affecting a couple of the runways,” said Greg Chin, MIA’s communications director. “It’s affecting two runways.”

The blackout began at about 8:20 p.m., affecting the two runways on the north side of the airport. This made it next to impossible for planes that had already landed to taxi to their gates, and for those still in the air to land on those runways.

“It looks like we’re only using the south one right now,” Chin said.

The runway blackout only added to Sunday evening’s chaos at the airport.

Almost two hours earlier, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s computers went down, Chin said, forcing passport-control officers to rely on a backup system.

“This is an out-of-the-ordinary situation,” Chin said. “We worked with the CBP as best we can.”

According to Chin, the passport control room, which processes an average of 2,000 arriving passengers per hour, filled to capacity and beyond, forcing many travelers to wait in the expansive corridor leading to it from the airport’s international gates.

A backup system was used to slowly chip away at the mass of weary travelers, but some passengers took to social media to voice their anger and concern about a possible fire hazard. Many tweeted pictures of hordes of travelers caught in limbo between the gates and the exit into the real world.

Even though some travelers had connecting flights to catch, they were processed on a first-come, first-served basis.

“Everyone had to wait their turn,” Chin said.

The main computer system was restored at 7:50 p.m. and the lights on the two north runways came back on at 10 p.m., Chin said.

He couldn’t say how many outgoing flights had been affected by the blackout, but added that “the airport in total does about 1,000 flights a day.”

Chin said he doesn’t think any flights had to be diverted to Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. “This was a matter of all the flights being diverted to one runway,” Chin said.

Airplanes already on the ground were affected, too. The problem, Chin said, was an issue with a generator.

“It looks like one of the taxiways on the north side was still working,” Chin said, adding that the other north-side taxiway being out “did slow down things.”

After a tumultuous and chaotic night at MIA, the relief in Chin’s voice after 10 p.m. was palpable: “Things are getting back to normal.”