Nov. 1, 2012 at 11:24 AM ET
Sarah Connors felt like she was about to enter a war zone when she left for LaGuardia Airport on Thursday to finally catch a flight out of the Big Apple, her own version of “Escape from New York.”
For days, she and the countless other travelers stranded by Superstorm Sandy watched grim images of flooded runways and terminals turned into ghost towns after airlines canceled thousands of flights.
On Thursday, however, all three major New York-area airports were back in service and gradually returning to normal.
“Right now, the mood at LaGuardia seems sort of subdued. Flights are on time but it’s not super busy,” Connors told NBC News as she waited for her flight home to St. Louis on Thursday afternoon.
She tweeted that the security line was “wicked short.”
“Everyone seems to be in good spirits. We are getting out, after all.”
Connors was supposed to return to St. Louis on Monday after visiting her aunt in New York, but her American Airlines flight was canceled the day before. It took two calls to rebook, including one that kept her on hold for an hour, she said.
She was then put on a flight scheduled for Wednesday, but with LaGuardia still closed, her departure was delayed yet another day.
LaGuardia reopened on Thursday morning after flooding from Sandy forced its closure at the height of the storm, with water right up to the jet bridges. It’s not operating at full operations today, but things are expected to return to normal over the course of the next day or two, said Pasquale DiFulco, a spokesman for the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey.
“When you look at pictures of where LaGuardia was two days ago – it was part of Flushing Bay. It’s just remarkable where we are today and where we’re going to be in a couple of days,” DiFulco said.
John F. Kennedy International and Newark International reopened on Wednesday and both are fully operational, but flight service varies by carrier, the Port Authority said. If you have a flight scheduled at any of the New York-area airports, officials are strongly urging you to check the status with your airline before heading out.
Airlines canceled about 600 flights on Thursday, according to FlightAware.com. That’s relatively few compared to earlier in the week when thousands of flights were being scrubbed each day. In all, carriers have canceled about 20,000 flights since Sunday, when the storm began to menace the Northeast.
"Barring any unforeseen airport damage or operational issues, such as the ability for staff to get to the airport, road warriors should pretty much be back in business on Monday," said Rick Seaney, CEO of FareCompare.com.
"The trend in cancellations since Monday is a hockey stick in the downward direction."
Delta operations at LaGuardia Airport resumed as planned Thursday and the airline expects to operate a full schedule at all the New York City-area airports on Friday.
United has increased its operations at JFK International and Newark Liberty and is offering limited flights at LaGuardia.
American Airlines is flying a full schedule at JFK, LaGuardia and Newark. The carrier is also operating additional flights into JFK to help passengers impacted by cancellations earlier in the week.
JetBlue is operating 80 percent of its total schedule, aiming to return to 100 percent by Saturday. All JetBlue flights originally scheduled to depart from LaGuardia on Thursday will depart instead from JFK International. The airline expects to resume service at LaGuardia on Friday.
Getting around in New York remains a problem as the city struggles to restore subway service.
Limited service began in the Big Apple on Thursday morning, but there is almost no subway activity below 34th Street, NBC News’ Tom Costello said on the TODAY show.
To avoid gridlock, Mayor Michael Bloomberg declared only vehicles carrying three or more people would be allowed into the city.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that fares on all mass transit will be suspended through Friday.
“We want to get people back to work, but we are asking our customers for patience and understanding as they confront crowding and long lines as we repair our system,” said Joseph Lhota, chairman and CEO of New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
“Be flexible about your travel times. We have come a long way in a short time to repair the damage from the most devastating event to strike our transportation system.”