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Atlanta airport power restored but travel woes expected to linger

Power has been restored to the world's busiest airport, but travel woes are expected to linger for days after t housands of people were left stranded on Monday morning in Atlanta.

More than 1,000 flights were grounded at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport just days before the start of the Christmas travel rush.

A sudden power outage which Georgia Power said was caused by a fire in an underground electrical facility brought the airport to a standstill on Sunday afternoon.

All outgoing flights were halted, and arriving planes were held on the ground at their point of departure. International flights are being diverted, officials said.

Delta Air Lines, which has its biggest hub in Atlanta, will be hardest-hit. By Sunday evening, Delta had already cancelled nearly 900 flights and another 300 on Monday, nearly all of them in Atlanta, according to tracking service FlightAware.com.

Robert Mann, an aviation consultant and former American Airlines executive, said it will likely be Tuesday before Delta's operations in Atlanta return to normal, and for passengers "it could be most of the week" because there are not many open seats on other flights in the last week before Christmas.

However, according to Mr Mann, Delta has more spare planes and available crews in Atlanta than anywhere else, which should help it to recover.

Delta customers flying to or from Atlanta can make a one-time change to travel plans without incurring a 200 dollar (£150) fee.

The airline also encouraged travellers not to pick up their bags on Monday because of anticipated congestion at the airport.

When flights at Atlanta were grounded for most of one day last spring thanks to a storm, it took Delta five days - and about 4,000 cancelled flights - before it fully recovered.

Like Sunday's outage, the April storm hit Delta's largest hub at a busy travel time when there were not many empty seats to accommodate customers from cancelled flights.

At the time, CEO Ed Bastian vowed Delta would make "significant improvements" to its system for scheduling and tracking aircraft crews to recover more quickly from disruptions.

Other airlines also cancelled flights for the rest of Sunday. American Airlines cancelled 24 departures and an equal number of arrivals, said spokesman Ross Feinstein. The airline also diverted three planes that were headed to Atlanta when the outage struck, sending them instead to Dallas, Nashville and back to Philadelphia.

The city of Atlanta provided a shuttle service to the Georgia Convention Centre on Sunday for travellers needing a place to stay.

Some passengers said there was a lack of information from airport officials and little help from first responders to get the disabled and the elderly through the airport without the use of escalators and elevators.

According to a Georgia Power statement, the utility believes a piece of equipment in an underground electrical facility may have failed, causing the fire at the airport. The fire was next to equipment for a backup system, causing that to also fail.

"No personnel or passengers were in danger at any time," the statement said.

No areas outside of the airport were affected by the power loss. The utility said there are "many redundant systems in place" to ensure the power supply to the airport and that such outages at the airport "are very rare".

Anthony Foxx, who served as US transportation secretary under former president Barack Obama, tweeted that he was among the many travellers stuck for hours on a plane on the tarmac.

"Total and abject failure here at ATL Airport today," he tweeted, adding that there was "no excuse for lack of workable redundant power source. NONE!"

In another tweet, Foxx said it seemed like the problem was "compounded by confusion and poor communication".

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