среда, 29 декабря 2010 г.

New York struggles through massive airport backlog

NEW YORK -- Snow plows churned through the night, snack bars stayed open late and cleaning crews scrubbed round-the-clock to keep the terminals clean as New York's airports struggled to clear a huge backlog of flights that has stranded thousands of passengers across the United States.

Jetways were packed at New York's Kennedy airport, where at least three airliners - two Cathay Pacific planes and a British Airways plane - were stuck for more than seven hours on Tuesday while they waited for an open gate.

On Tuesday night the airport remained filled with passengers on cell phones and laptops, trying to rebook flights, make hotel reservations or figure out alternate plans. Lines at counters for rental cars, ground transportation and lost luggage remained long throughout the day.

More than 5,000 flights were canceled at the three main airports in New York - 1,000 on Tuesday alone.

But the blizzard that hit the northeast on Sunday crippled more than just air travel. Streets across New York remained unplowed, with hundreds of buses and dozens of ambulances stuck in the snowdrifts. Subway lines and commuter trains were running slower because of signal problems and short-circuits caused by the snow. In New Jersey, tow trucks worked to clear abandoned cars from the interstates.

Airlines were dispatching planes to JFK without lining up gate space first, causing backups on the ground, said Steve Coleman, a spokesman for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the airport.

Gigi Godfrey of Belize, spent 10 hours trapped in a Cathay Pacific plane until the flight was finally able to deplane on Tuesday.

"It was so frustrating, just sitting there for hours, waiting for more bad news," the 24-year-old Godfrey said. She was passing through New York after spending Christmas in Thailand and couldn't remember when she had first boarded a plane.

"I am so tired I don't even know what day yesterday is," she said.

Cathay Pacific spokesman Gus Whitcomb said the planes had taken off under the assumption that they would have somewhere to go upon landing. U.S. airlines operating domestic flights are not allowed to keep passengers waiting on the tarmac for more than three hours, but international flights and foreign airlines are exempt from the rule.

At JFK's Terminal 7, exhausted would-be travelers trapped in the airport for hours - or in some cases days - had removed the rope barriers from around a British Airways advertising display touting "new, "roomier business class seats" and were sleeping, stretched out or slumped over, in the model airplane seats.

Airport staffers said a small Starbucks counter that was shuttered Tuesday had yet to reopen after running out of supplies on Sunday. The one remaining vendor, a Subway sandwich shop, had huge lines throughout the day.
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