Orlando airport – As Orlando’s airport manages a $3.1 billion expansion and a record 43 million passengers a year, it also has a relatively tiny but conspicuous accounting task to conclude: paying claims for shuttle trouble this year.
Only 105 fliers filed claims for compensation by the Aug. 7 deadline, although Orlando International Airport reported that thousands were delayed by a series of failures in April related to a challenging installation of new shuttle trains.
“There’s no easy way to do it,” airport spokeswoman Carolyn Fennell said.
The airport made its unprecedented offer to accept claims after a nearly a week of breakdowns by a transportation system that plays an essential role in carrying passengers from the ticketing and security area of the airport to an outlying clusters of gates.
Airport officials have said all claims ultimately will be covered by the manufacturer of the newly installed shuttle train that broke down repeatedly, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries America Inc.
Of those claims, 33 had been reviewed and paid as of last week, each for an amount of $400.
Passengers were from Orlando, Sanford, Ocoee, Melbourne Beach and elsewhere in Central Florida, while some were from elsewhere in the nation or from England.
One Spirit passenger received compensation of nearly twice what she apparently paid for a round-trip flight to Houston, according to airport records.
The shuttle debacle stemmed from the airport’s design.
There are four, remote hubs that contain gates; each hub is connected to the main terminal by two shuttle trains using parallel tracks.
Early this year, a single Mitsubishi train was serving the outlying hub with American, Spirit and United gates.
The other train was out of service for replacement.
Even with a heavy contingent of Mitsubishi engineers on hand, their newly installed shuttle train suffered a series of break-in glitches.
Airport officials acknowledged they were not well enough prepared initially with buses that could provide backup transportation.
The malfunction occurred with shuttle service for an outlying hub referred to as “Airside 3,” which holds gates 30 through 59.
Replacement work is now underway for the pair of shuttles serving an outlying hub with domestic carriers, including JetBlue, Frontier and Silver Airways, and international airlines, including Aer Lingus, Air Berlin and Copa.
That hub, called Airside 1, houses gates one through 29.
Handling both domestic and international passengers heightens the difficulty of relying on a single shuttle train as its counterpart is being replaced.
“We have tuned the operation, added security and sent ambassadors over there to manage the queues to the train,” airport director Phil Brown said.
“You have to keep international passengers separate from screened, domestic passengers.”