UPDATE: The runway at Key West International Airport reopened Tuesday morning and flights have resumed.
Paradise is stuck.
Flights in and out of Key West came to an abrupt halt Monday afternoon when the island’s airport shut down its only runway due to a small section of asphalt going soft.
Key West International Airport and Monroe County officials said “asphalt failure” is to blame — but the damage was not caused directly by a plane, said county spokeswoman Kristen Livengood.
The runway will open at 6 a.m Tuesday after overnight repairs, said Richard Strickland, the county’s director of airports.
“It’s not that big of a deal,” Strickland told a reporter with FLKeysNews.com/Miami Herald.
“I don’t know exactly what caused it,” he said. “There was asphalt that came up and apart. We immediately shut everything down and called for repair crews.”
By 4:45 p.m. Monday, Strickland said one crew was on its way from Islamorada to Key West, about a two-hour drive. Another company in Key West was also called in.
Passengers need to check with the airlines for new flight times, according to the airport’s Facebook page.
Key West International, once a breeze to zip through, is now a crowded and sometimes cramped place to await boarding. The average wait time for both departures and getting through the TSA checkpoint was 45 minutes in 2021. Last year, Strickland called the departure area conditions “horrible.”
The airport set records in 2021, with nearly 1.5 million people passing through the airport off South Roosevelt Boulevard. That’s a 53 percent increase over the previous record in 2019, according to a report by WLRN in May.
In 2019, the Key West airport had 969,069 passengers come through. In 2020, the first year of the coronavirus pandemic, the count was 641,876.
The only way to board or leave a plane in Key West is by crossing the tarmac. But the county has been planning an $80 million expansion that will change that by adding glass jetways that connect from the airport to the plane.