NEW YORK — There wasn't a spare seat to be found on planes or buses Tuesday as travelers stranded by Hurricane Irene finally headed home. The nation's transportation system was nearly back to normal, giving hope to vacationers looking for a trouble-free Labor Day getaway.
While planes and buses were operating on near-normal schedules, throughout the day Amtrak remained paralyzed between New York and Philadelphia. Late in the day, railroad officials announced that flooding had receded, repairs were made and service would resume Wednesday morning.
That was little solace to those who missed out on vacations, canceled business meetings or searched for days to find any way home.
"I have work waiting for me, so I'm losing time and money," said Washington attorney Betty Sinowitz, who was stuck at New York's Penn Station after her train was canceled.
Fliers fared much better. Only a handful of flights were canceled Tuesday compared with more than 1,700 on Monday, according to flight tracking service FlightAware. A total of 14,000 flights were scrapped in the days before, during and after the storm.
Most airlines said that the backlog of stranded passengers would be cleared by the end of Tuesday.
But the frayed nerves were still evident — and they extended beyond stranded travelers.
At least one airline said it could have moved more passengers to their destinations on-time if not for New York airport officials' decision to shut down at noon on Saturday.
That "threw a huge monkey wrench into our planning," said David Holtz, managing director for operations at Delta. The airline had planned to keep flying through Saturday evening.
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Delta canceled additional flights to adjust.
Susan Baer, the aviation director for the agency that runs New York airports, said the shutdown of the city's public transit system — which most employees use to get to work — affected its decision to close the airports.
Despite the sooner-than-expected shutdown, some airlines praised the efficiency of the airports' reopening.
"The coordination was really extraordinary," JetBlue CEO Dave Barger told CNBC on Monday. "I really don't think we could have had a more effective startup."
Reopening airports means much more than just switching on the lights. In New York, for example, it involved doing everything from clearing cots used by stranded travelers to making sure airport staff could show up to work. With the city's public transportation system limping back into service, Baer said security agents were picked up by their managers in vans to ensure that they'd make it to work on time.
Amtrak resumed service between New York and Boston on Tuesday. About 33,000 people ride the trains between Boston, New York and Washington on a typical day.
Travelers who couldn't fly or take the train turned to the bus.
Rob Gonci, 45, of Akron, Ohio, needed to get to Philadelphia for a business meeting, but he was still on the street with his brief case, trying to figure out how to purchase a bus ticket. His train had been canceled Tuesday morning after he flew into Manhattan the night before.
"Do you book a hotel another night, and then tomorrow the trains still aren't going?" he wondered. "Or do you just cut your losses?"
BoltBus was fully booked Monday and Tuesday, according to Timothy Stokes, a spokesman for its parent company Greyhound. The only cancellation for Greyhound was its route between Albany and Syracuse.Story: Tourism dilemma: Irene's gone but summer's not
Megabus also saw an increase in passengers who had tried to get around by other means, according to Dale Moser, president and COO of Megabus parent company Coach USA.
All buses were running again, but some kept their speeds down on roads other than interstate highways as a precaution.
and Meghan Barr in New York contributed to this report.
Samantha Bomkamp can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/samwilltravel . Scott Mayerowitz can be reached at http://twitter.com/GlobeTrotScott .
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