Image: Snow removal at JFK
Chris Hondros  /  Getty Images
Heavy equipment clears snow from the tarmac around Terminal 4 following a major blizzard at John F. Kennedy International Airport on Monday.
msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 12/28/2010 7:30:12 PM ET 2010-12-29T00:30:12

The East Coast blizzard that forced airlines to cancel thousands of flights — including 800 more on Tuesday — is far from being forgotten, and its effects are far from over.

"It was so frustrating, just sitting there for hours, waiting for more bad news," said 24-year-old Gigi Godfrey of Belize City, Belize, who was on a Cathay Pacific flight that originated in Hong Kong and was diverted to Toronto before landing in New York's Kennedy Airport — where it sat on the tarmac for more than 10 hours before passengers were allowed to walk off Tuesday morning.

Video: Travel mess to last till 2011? (on this page)

The weary travelers said they were given meager snacks like juice, water, cookies or instant soups, and got conflicting reports about why they could not leave. Explanations ranged from the airport not having enough staff to accommodate landings, Customs not being fully operational and a lack of gate space.

Story: Abandoned cars, buses slow blizzard cleanup

Godfrey was in transit through New York after spending Christmas in Thailand, and didn't know what day she had first boarded a plane. "I am so tired I don't even know what day yesterday is," she said.

Problems begin at landing
For some airline passengers who were finally able to make it into a New York City airport after a blizzard shut the region down, the travel nightmare started once they landed.

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Another Cathay Pacific flight from Hong Kong to New York, via Vancouver, British Columbia, sat for eight hours on the runway after landing at JFK on Tuesday.

And 300 passengers on a British Airways flight from London spent more than seven hours overnight at Kennedy.

Slideshow: The East Coast digs out (on this page)

A British Airways jet was left for nearly eight hours on the Kennedy's tarmac after landing on a flight from London Tuesday. The airline blamed gate congestion and a lack of immigration and customs personnel.

British Airways spokesman John Lampl said Flight 183 landed Monday night but waited until about 4:30 a.m. for an open gate. By that time, Lampl said, Customs officials had gone home for the night, and passengers had to remain on the plane until more Customs workers showed up at 6 a.m.

"After 2 hrs in security, only 4 staff with 500+ passengers, luggage is still on the plane! But its good to be back!" passenger Matthew Bishop, the New York bureau chief for The Economist, said on Twitter.

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Nowhere to go
Steve Coleman, a spokesman for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the airport, said airlines were dispatching planes to the airport without coordinating gate space first.

"They did not call or work with the terminal operator at terminal 7, which is where they typically dock," he said in reference to a second stranded Cathay flight. "So without gate space for them, they have nowhere to go."

Cathay Pacific spokesman Gus Whitcomb said the planes had taken off under the assumption that they would have somewhere to go upon landing.

Coleman said the Port Authority worked to find somewhere for the plane to go.

Video: Beating travel troubles (on this page)

"Our staff out there have been working nonstop for the last several hours to try to find gate space for them even though it has nothing to do with our responsibility as the airport operator; it's the airline's responsibility."

For passenger Abi Subramanian, an investment banker returning home to New York City from a holiday trip in Vancouver, the wait was especially torturous because he was traveling with his 2 1/2-month-old daughter.

"She's been very patient but she's not feeling well," he told The Associated Press about eight hours into the delay and shortly before they were finally able to get off the plane.

"I've been through this before in New York City," he said, referring to big snowstorms. "There's never been anything like this."

'It's like living in the Stone Age again'
Kenneth Choi of Vancouver said he thought the ordeal would be over once they entered the airport. Instead, they faced huge lines in customs and crammed onto an overloaded shuttle buses to get to another terminal and fill out lost luggage forms.

"I don't understand why it takes 9 or 10 hours to figure things out," Choi said. "It's like living in the Stone Age again."

Video: Thousands still stranded at airports (on this page)

As travelers inside the airports saw more flights opening up, they still had long travel nightmares ahead.

Adriana Siqueira, 38, a housekeeper from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., has been told she and her 10-year-old daughter cannot get home from New York's LaGuardia until New Year's Day. They have already spent one night in the terminal and can't afford a hotel.

"I have no idea what I'm going to do," Siqueira said. "I don't feel good."

More than 5,000 flights have been canceled since Sunday night at all three New York-area airports. LaGuardia and Kennedy began receiving inbound flights Tuesday morning.

Rebooked by New Year's
Passengers crammed into airports in other cities on Tuesday hoping for a chance to reach their destinations. More than 1,700 passengers were stranded in Chicago, where several international flights were diverted.

Slideshow: Cold Winter (on this page)

Michael Giesen and Merja Nevalainen-Giesen, a retired couple from Dusseldorf, Germany, were among the mostly European stranded passengers gathered in the lobby of the Hilton hotel at O'Hare International Airport.

"Europe is coming together," Michael Giesen, 67, joked as he looked at the crowd.

Officials warned it could take until New Year's to rebook all passengers and straighten out the transportation mess created by the storm, which shut down all three of New York's major airports for 24 hours and caused a ripple effect across the U.S.

"I don't know if I ever want to go on vacation again, honestly," said 28-year-old Tiffany Bunton, who was heading through security at LaGuardia with her 8-year-old daughter, Trystan, on their way back to Fort Worth, Texas.

NBC News, The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Travel mess to last till 2011?

  1. Closed captioning of: Travel mess to last till 2011?

    >>> good evening. it's fair to ask if you live in dallas or den they are or demoine, how does a blizzard on the east coast affect you? the answer is, when you're grounded. this storm that dumped over 30 inches in parts of this area brought air travel to a halt and it's still hurting, still not back to where it was and the backlog of passengers huge. flight tracking gps software shows all the aircraft over this country right now and as you look at all those little icons each one of them resembling -- representing a flight. remember this, one-third of all the air traffic in this country either starts, stops or intersects with new york -area airspace. in this case, what has happened in new york has bottled up people with travel plans and tickets and reservations all over the world. it's a mess to be sure. to begin our coverage of the mess, our own jeff rossen at lga, jeff, good evening.

    >>> hi, brian. no better word than that.

    >> reporter: it's been chaotic at laguardia all day. the line at one point wrapped to the food court and went on for hours. in some cases travelers waiting found out their flights were cancelled and experts say it could be 2011 before things get back to normal. one day of snow, a week's worth of headaches from the northeast and beyond.

    >> we just found out our flight was cancelled. we can't get out until after a return flight was supposed to get us back to new york . we can't get out until friday.

    >> reporter: some passengers have camped out for three days. this woman just found out she'll be sleeping here again tonight. so she tries to rebook.

    >> it's busy.

    >> reporter: flights are finally taking off and landing but not fast enough. in new york alone, 3,000 passengers were stuck today. and in the northeast, about 900 flights were cancelled.

    >> it's like a domino effect . once you cancel flights in one area, planes can't get to other cities, even if the other cities are not affecteded by snow.

    >> reporter: today, travelers in orlando felt the pain.

    >> it was a nightmare. i was talking to everybody trying to find directions, you know, no hotels were available.

    >> reporter: and in atlanta --

    >> when you call the airline, everyone is on the phone so you wait for like half an hour to get to someone.

    >> reporter: and in milwaukee.

    >> it was such a mess and there were so many people in there like screams and crying.

    >> reporter: passengers on a cafe pacific flight sat on the tarmac at jfk for nearly eight hours. no food, no water, no bathrooms.

    >> every time the captain updated us which he tried to do about every hour all he could say was -- i don't have any additional information.

    >> reporter: experts say it could be after new year's before flights are back on schedule. no great shape outside the airport. on the streets of new york city, hundreds of buses stuck. thousands of cars buried.

    >> by now it should be clean, right? and it's not. it's still here.

    >> oh, my god.

    >> reporter: in this home video posted on youtube --

    >> are you out of your mind?

    >> reporter: new york city workers are towing a plow caught on camera smashing a parked suv in brooklyn.

    >> what are you doing.

    >> reporter: the seven expectation department tells nbc news this is common during snow storms and the car's owner will likely be paid for the damage. now with intersections resembling sledding hills were anger is mountsing.

    >> mayor bloomberg , shame on you.

    >> of course i'm angry. i pay taxes like everyone else.

    >> reporter: new york 's mayor responded.

    >> we will make mistakes. yelling about it and complaining doesn't help.

    >> reporter: easier said than done. in some neighborhoods here in new york city , as one woman told me today, brian, happy new year. and one other thing? i walked by an airline counter, there were four agents i counted for literally 150 people waiting.

    >> who a nice night out at laguardia airport . jeff, thanks

Photos: The East Coast digs out

loading photos...
  1. Snow covers the tarmac at John F. Kennedy International Airport's Terminal 4 on Tuesday, Dec. 28, in New York City. Flights have slowly started to resume in New York but lines to rebook have been long. (Chris Hondros / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. People sleep and eat on the floor while waiting for a flight at Terminal 4 of John F. Kennedy International Airport Tuesday. (Chris Hondros / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. A New Jersey Transit train arrives at the Princeton Junction station Tuesday in West Windsor, N.J. (Mel Evans / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. A front-end loader removes snow in New York's Times Square on Tuesday ahead of New Year festivities. (Stan Honda / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. A doorman shovels a path on the east side of Manhattan on Tuesday after the blizzard dropped 20 inches of snow in the area. (Stan Honda / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Dave Duncan sits in his Honda Civic, buried on the street, in Asbury Park, N.J., on Tuesday. (Beth Defalco / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Travelers wait in ticketing lines at New York's LaGuardia airport on Tuesday. (Don Emmert / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Icicles melt in the afternoon sun as temperatures rise into the high 30s Tuesday in Hamilton, N.J. (Mel Evans / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. This traveler at Miami International Airport was among the many waiting Tuesday for flights after the Northeast blizzard caused backups across the country. (Jeffrey Boan / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. A young person sleds down a snow covered hill at Belmont Plateau in Philadelphia on Monday. A blizzard pummeled the Northeast on Monday, dumping up to 29 inches of snow, disrupting air and rail travel and challenging motorists with blowing snow and icy roads at the end of the busy Christmas weekend. New York City, eastern New Jersey and western Long Island were the hardest hit by the storm. (Matt Rourke / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Travelers carry their luggage through a snow bank on 7th Ave. in front of Penn Station after a snow storm in New York, Dec. 27. A blizzard pummeled the Northeast on Monday, dumping up to 29 inches of snow, disrupting air and rail travel and challenging motorists with blowing snow and icy roads at the end of the busy Christmas weekend. New York City, eastern New Jersey and western Long Island were the hardest hit by the storm. (Lucas Jackson / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. A windswept beach looks desolate following a snow storm on Monday in Westport, Conn. (Spencer Platt / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Children play on a mound of snow on The Boardwalk, Dec. 27, in Atlantic City, N.J. (Mel Evans / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Gregg Smith shovels out after a heavy snowfall in the Boston suburb of Marlborough, Mass., Dec. 27. A powerful East Coast blizzard menaced would-be travelers by air, rail and highway Monday, leaving thousands without a way to get home after the holidays. (Bill Sikes / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Alexa Canning and Talia Quinn fly through the air after hitting a jump on their sleds in Norfolk, Massachusetts. (Matt Campbell / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. A man shovels snow on a street along the Brooklyn waterfront, Dec. 27, in New York City. (Chris Hondros / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Commuters, who were trapped over night, sit on parked trains at Penn Station in New York City on Monday. (Andrew Gombert / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. A woman exercises in a snow covered pasture in Durham, N.C., Monday, after a powerful East Coast blizzard that moved through Christmas day. (Jim R. Bounds / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. A strong gust of wind blows snow in front of a man in Philadelphia, Monday. (Matt Rourke / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. A woman walks her dog between snowed-in taxicabs following a major blizzard in Manhattan's Greenwich Village on Monday in New York City. (Chris Hondros / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Elena Amaral shovels steps at Trinity College during the storm in Hartford, Conn., Monday. (Jessica Hill / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. A homeowner clears snow from the end of his driveway, Dec. 27, in Norfolk, Mass., following the blizzard which brought more than a foot of snow in the Boston area. The storm dumped snow from Atlanta, Ga. to Maine. (Matt Campbell / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Michael Howard of Albany, N.Y., shovels out his vehicle on Monday. (Mike Groll / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. A woman walks through the snow in Manhattan's East Village in the early hours of Monday. (Mario Tama / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. A New Jersey state trooper arrives to help after cars crash during heavy snowfall on Sunday near Columbus, N.J. (Mel Evans / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. A worker clears snow from the seats at the Philadelphia Eagles stadium. (Tim Shaffer / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. The storm moved up from the south, where areas like Raleigh, N.C., saw snow over the weekend as well. (Jim R. Bounds / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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  1. Image: US East Coast Begins To Dig Out After Large Blizzard
    Chris Hondros / Getty Images
    Above: Slideshow (27) The East Coast digs out
  2. Dave Granlund / Politicalcartoons.com
    Slideshow (11) Cold Winter

Timeline: Top travel stories of 2010

From a volcano that disrupted air travel across Europe to Steve Slater's infamous exit on a JetBlue emergency chute, here's a look at the top travel stories of the year.

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