Image: Unclaimed bags at LaGuardia Airport
Don Emmert  /  AFP - Getty Images
Airline passengers examine unclaimed bags at New York's LaGuardia Airport on Tuesday.
msnbc.com news services
updated 12/29/2010 1:52:52 PM ET 2010-12-29T18:52:52

Big cot encampments and huge lines gave way to orderly, single-file queues and thawing tensions as flights left New York-area airports on time Wednesday, but clusters of tired, resigned passengers were still camped out waiting to go home.

Runways at the area's three major airports — Kennedy, LaGuardia and Newark — were all open Wednesday morning, officials said, but they cautioned that it might take days for all the passengers who've been camping out to get flights.

At John F. Kennedy International Airport, there were sights not seen for days: long lists of on-time flights, fully staffed information counters, National Guard troops patrolling the terminals and workers pushing long rows of empty luggage carts — previously so scarce and coveted that screaming matches broke out over who would get them.

Video: Northeast struggles to dig out of blizzard mess (on this page)

The massive lines of recent days gave way to snaking check-in queues. Those showing up for Wednesday flights fared much better than those who had been booked on flights earlier in the week; the latter were told they couldn't travel until after the new year.

Story: Caribbean vacation turns into airport stranding

All in it together
An exhausted sense of camaraderie in the face of perceived indifference by airport officials had set in among the stranded. People shared phone chargers, made coffee runs, commiserated over convenience store meals and minded luggage during bathroom breaks.

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

Tommy Mokhtari, of Dubai, was desperate to leave the United States on Wednesday, as his three-month tourist visa expired on Sunday. A professional poker player, Mokhtari said he was facing expensive lawyers' fees to remedy being "out of status" as well as a $600 to $800 penalty to rebook his tickets home to Dubai.

"I waited four hours in the queue just to speak to someone," he said. "Just to get the news that I have to wait a few more days. They really need to have a backup plan. I will never ever travel again in December, never on American Airlines, and never through New York."

Story: Stuck on the tarmac: Headaches begin at landing
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Most flights at New Jersey's Newark Liberty Airport were taking off and landing as scheduled Wednesday. Continental Airlines said on its website that its hub there was nearly normal but that some cancellations and delays remained.

Philadelphia International Airport reported virtually no delays, cancellations or stranded overnight passengers.

"It's looking really good here," spokeswoman Victoria Lupica said Wednesday.

'Extremely dissatisfied' mayor
In snowbound neighborhoods in New York, where hundreds of buses and dozens of ambulances got stuck in the snowdrifts, unplowed roads still hampered bus service Wednesday morning.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Wednesday he's "extremely dissatisfied" with how the city's emergency response system performed. Ambulances got stuck in the snow trying to answer emergency calls and more than 49,000 calls swamped emergency dispatch operators in one day.

The mayor said the city needs to focus on clearing unplowed streets after the storm and "we'll do the post-mortem afterwards."

Video: Politicians under fire for snow storm response (on this page)

New York's sanitation commissioner says most of the streets in the still-snowbound city will be plowed by 7 p.m., with every last one done by Thursday morning. Residential streets throughout the city remained untouched by snow plows Wednesday morning.

General delays were reported Wednesday morning at New York's Kennedy airport, where at least three airliners were stuck for more than seven hours Tuesday while they waited for an open gate.

More than 5,000 flights were canceled at the three main airports in New York — 1,000 on Tuesday alone, after the storm dumped 20 inches of snow over a 17-hour period on Sunday and Monday.

Story: Your images of East Coast blizzard

'Waiting for more bad news'
As airlines struggled to catch up, they dispatched planes to Kennedy 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.

Interactive: Top travel stories of 2010 (on this page)

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

Cathay Pacific spokesman Gus Whitcomb said the planes had taken off under the assumption that it 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.

Frustration builds
In New York, service on trains plagued by snow-generated signal problems and short-circuits was improving but not back to normal days after the storm. The Long Island Rail Road, the country's largest commuter railroad, had only seven of its 11 lines running.

In snowbound New York neighborhoods, frustration was building. In an Internet video that instantly went viral, New Yorkers were shown shouting epithets at a city crew that crashed into a parked car while trying to free a construction vehicle.

Video: Clean-up tow hits car (on this page)

On the other side of the Hudson River, Newark, N.J., Mayor Cory Booker personally helped some residents dig out their cars and was using Twitter to respond to others seeking help. Booker said he's "set a record for Diet Coke consumption" since Sunday night.

"I'm still getting a lot of tweets for help, so I'm going to stay with this for a while longer," he said.

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In Asbury Park, N.J., a commuter train hit a tractor-trailer that got stuck at a railroad crossing. The driver had left the truck and no injuries were reported.

"At first it was somewhat exciting and pretty cool to see this much snow, being from Texas, but by the second day it became pretty frustrating," said tourist Will Robinson, 24. "The sidewalks were a mess."

Times Square was mostly cleared in preparation for Friday night's New Year's Eve celebration. Warmer and mostly sunny weather was forecast until then.

Traffic trickled over a thin layer of slush, after the so-called crossroads of the world had almost no cars on Monday when snow was piled high.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

Video: Northeast struggles to dig out of blizzard mess

  1. Closed captioning of: Northeast struggles to dig out of blizzard mess

    >> frustrations caused by the are beginning to boil over. thousands of passengers have been stranded around the country. jeff rosen is in brooklyn with the latest on the cleanup. jeff, good morning.

    >> reporter: good morning to you. here we are, three days after the storm in the biggest city in the country. and it's really still a disaster area along many of the side streets . right now, i'm standing not in a park, not in a field somewhere, this is actually a residential area , a residential side street in the middle of brooklyn, new york. and when i say it's not been plowed, i mean it. i did not mean plows came through and snow just covered over, i'm saying a plow never came through, you can't get a car through here or an ambulance through here or a police car through here and that's causing many problems. and if you do, you couldn't get a tractor trailer through a snow bank that's five feet tall. the airports are just as bad or even worse , but there is some progress to report this morning. and away we finally go to -- the game went on tuesday night, the eagles and vikings in philadelphia, 48 hours late courtesy of the blizzard. governor ed rendell was there, remember on a radio show he said this about our nation.

    >> we have become a nation of wusses.

    >> reporter: by the way, the vikings won. no winners at the airport, the planes are flying again, but the backlog of passengers is staggering, lines around the terminal and stranded travelers are still sleeping here.

    >> it's just a big mess.

    >> reporter: an abc producer shot this video of a plane stuck on the tarmac at jfk for six hours.

    >> there's not much water left on the plane and all the wine and booze that would make people feel a little bit better is locked up because of customs.

    >> reporter: flights were canceled coast to coast . in milwaukee --

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

    >> reporter: and atlanta.

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

    >> reporter: experts say air travel won't bounce back until after new year's. on the streets, growing anger about new york city 's response, busses still stuck, cars still buried. and just walking is still treacherous.

    >> shame on you.

    >> yelling about it and complaining doesn't help.

    >> reporter: but even if with the blizzard comes a miracle. tammy amed?i went into labor during the storm sunday, she called an ambulance but no luck. in the end tammy gave birth at home no baby yasmine.

    >> it was horrifying. but thank god she's okay.

    >> reporter: the ambulance showed up four hours later. tammy wasn't alone. maya gelfind went into labor. they went to a subway stop and figured out the trains weren't running. whi and congratulations to those new mothers. since the storm in this area alone, three people have died including a newborn baby because, lester, exactly what i was saying before, ambulances cannot get through these side streets . mayor bloomberg made a desperate plea yesterday afternoon in a news conference, to anyone who was watching, especially to private plow drivers, saying with will hire you to come and help.

    >> a little national exposure will that get particular street plowed

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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Interactive: Powerful winter storm bears down on North East coast

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