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After Northeast Blizzard, Airports Back in Business But Backlogged

December 28, 2010 at 3:44 PM EDT
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GWEN IFILL: Jets took to the skies over the Northeast today as major airports got up and running again. But the snowstorm’s ripple effect still left many thousands of weary would-be travelers wondering whether they will ever take off.

A snow plow labored today outside Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey, while, inside the terminal, stranded travelers waited and waited. Two days after the Christmas weekend blizzard, all three of New York City’s regional airports had resumed limited operations. A few on-time departures even appeared on flight boards.

WOMAN: And I think they have added a lot of flights to the airlines to accommodate for yesterday’s misses. That’s what we have heard — hopefully.

(LAUGHTER)

GWEN IFILL: But, thanks to the logistics of getting passengers up in the air, thousands on the East Coast and well beyond were still trying to complete their holiday travel today.

MAN: I phoned the airport. I was told to come here from my hotel in New York, which I did. And then I’m told the flight has been canceled.

GWEN IFILL: The Newark Liberty terminal and others doubled as open-air hotels, with people trying to grab sleep as they waited. Airlines were already booked solid for the holidays. That made it harder to re-book when flights were canceled.

WOMAN: We are supposed to go on tonight. We were supposed to go on yesterday’s flight, but all the passengers from the day before went on that flight, and we were bumped out, and we have to wait for this flight to go.

GWEN IFILL: With 7,000 flights wiped off schedules over two days, airlines also struggled to get their planes where their passengers were. The ripple effects were felt nationwide, from Cleveland…

MAN: I came from Milwaukee to Cleveland, and my flight got canceled after I came here. So, now I’m waiting on the flight to Providence, Rhode Island.

GWEN IFILL: …to Atlanta, the major hub for Delta, which canceled more than 850 flights due to the storm…

WOMAN: Domino effect.

WOMAN: I had a flight to La Guardia two days ago. Then I had another flight yesterday into La Guardia, and then a flight this morning into White Plains that got canceled.

GWEN IFILL: …and as far west as Southern California. At Los Angeles International Airport, the line at the Continental counter went hundreds of people deep.

WOMAN: There’s an eight- to 10-hour wait just to get to a ticketing agent. The ticketing agent tells you at that point that the first available flight out to Newark or anywhere on the East Coast — well, to Newark or JFK — is January 1 or 2.

GWEN IFILL: Adding to the frustration, some airline websites went down, even as phone systems were overrun with callers.

MAN: Thanks for calling Continental Airlines. Due to high call volume, we’re unable to take your call.

GWEN IFILL: The troubles at airports spilled over to ground travel, especially in New York City, where cars and buses were buried.

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (I), mayor, New York: In the past, we have had help from airports with equipment, but not this time. The airports are still digging out. When the airports finish digging out, we would expect that some of the equipment that’s being used there would become available to us to work on the streets.

GWEN IFILL: But that could be a while, both for the plow crews slogging away at the airports and the tired crowds hoping for relief and a way home.