Explanations Range From Staffing To Lack Of Gate Space

NEW YORK (CBS 2/AP) — Two magic words — “on time” — started appearing on some airport departure boards Tuesday as stranded passengers’ patience and cash waned after a blizzard that brought transportation to a halt in the tri-state area during one of the busiest travel times of the year.

However, passengers on three flights arriving at Kennedy Airport said they spent hours on the tarmac waiting to disembark.

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One Cathay Pacific flight that originated in Hong Kong and was diverted to Toronto before landing in New York sat on the runway at Kennedy Airport for more than 10 hours before passengers were allowed to walk off Tuesday afternoon.

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.

“It felt like the worst thing I’ve ever gone through, one of the worst things,” one passenger told CBS 2’s Whit Johnson. “Everybody on that plane was trying to sleep. People were trying to snooze on their fold-out dinner trays. I mean it was just really bad. And then kind of the service just stopped. There was no more water, no more food.”

“People were pretty good humored, considering,” a female passenger added. “They were a bit subdued. And as it went on and on we all got a bit more tired.”

“It was so frustrating, just sitting there for hours, waiting for more bad news,” said 24-year-old Gigi Godfrey of Belize City, Belize.

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.

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Another Cathay Pacific flight from Hong Kong to New York, via Vancouver, British Columbia, sat for hours on the runway Tuesday. And 300 passengers on a British Airways flight from London spent more than seven hours overnight at Kennedy.

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.

Meanwhile, thousands of passengers were still stranded at area airports Tuesday and some won’t get home for days. Experts said it would likely take several days to rebook all the displaced passengers. Many travelers have already spent two nights tossing and turning in the terminal.

Six-year-old Jeda was still hugging her “I love New York” reindeer after she and her family had spent more than 30 hours on cots in LaGuardia, and the family may have to spend another night here until they can get a flight back home to Toronto.

“We’re booked tomorrow at 6:40 a.m., so I just want to get out here, because we don’t have any more clean clothes to change and we don’t have any more money,” said Imelda Cayone.

The Cayones and thousands of other stranded travelers look out the airport windows to see the snow being cleared, but there still weren’t enough flights to replace the nearly 1,500 canceled at our three area airports at the height of the blizzard.

“Boring, homeless and helpless,” said Jim Giaoyi.

A student headed to Columbus had logged the most stranded hours so far, 60 hours at LaGuardia, but he has competition from his new friend on the next cot, Jason Wilson.

“The airlines, all they can do is all they can do. We got some explanation. It was more so getting staff and getting the area cleaned out, but the airline’s been just fine,” he said.

So the wait continues as everyone tries to make the best of a bad situation. “It’s OK. They took really good care of us. They did. They gave us good cots and blankets. It was nice. They even changed our cots because they weren’t as nice as those,” said Debbie Fahey.

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