NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey on Thursday announced a series of interim solutions to prevent another baggage meltdown at John F. Kennedy International Airport.

But as CBS2 Political Reporter Marcia Kramer reported, it does not help people still stuck without their stuff.

The Port Authority apologized Thursday that thousands were forced to live through a baggage nightmare at the airport.

But that means little to Jonathan Heller, a 20-year-old college student from Riverdale, the Bronx, who incredibly has spent the first two weeks of a semester abroad in Madrid without any of his things.

“This was all the clothes – my entire wardrobe that I brought with me for, you know, five months in a different country; prescription medications that I brought with me,” Heller said.

Heller was separated from his things after the snowstorm delayed his flight. Then he got story after story – his suitcases were at JFK; no, they were in Amsterdam; no, they were still missing in action.

“After two weeks, to not even know where my luggage is?” Heller said.

And he is not alone. Shamefaced officials admitted that there are still hundreds just like Jonathan.

The problems at JFK started with the Jan. 4 snowstorm that canceled hundreds of flights, froze equipment, separated thousands of passengers from their luggage and led to days of delays. A burst water pipe also forced the main international terminal to temporarily close.

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood is investigating the meltdowns, and appeared at a news conference with Port Authority Executive Director Rick Cotton.

Kramer demanded answers from Cotton about the baggage situation.

Kramer: “Why has the baggage situation not been fixed? Today, I spoke to a student who was leaving JFK to go to Madrid. He’s in a foreign country with nothing. How sit hat acceptable, and what are you going to do to fix it?”

Cotton: “Well, the answer is it’s not acceptable. The Port Authority has issued directives to the organizations that do this. This is an airline responsibility. That’s not an excuse. That’s the nature of the problem, which is there needs to be far better coordination. If you take a step back, look, the fact is this system is broken.”

The Port Authority hired LaHood both to investigate what went wrong and to recommend permanent changes. In the meantime, the Port Authority has taken several steps, including:

• Plans to activate an emergency operations center prior to the start of any significant storm;

• New customer communications efforts;

• And yes, said with a straight face, better baggage handling.

“My message would be that the Port Authority understands what a huge, big mess has occurred,” LaHood said.

He explained how big a mess it was.

“I’ve received a few emails from people wanting to know if I can help them find their bags also,” he said.

And while he was brought in to fix the problem, LaHood was unable to reunite anyone with their belongings. But he is promising a report within the next three to four months on what can be done to prevent another baggage meltdown.

The luggage in limbo is a fraction of the thousands of unclaimed bags that accumulated during the chaos. But it illuminates the magnitude of the breakdown and airlines’ limitations in handling baggage backups.

The industry generally has a good record on luggage: Thanks to improvements in bag-tracking technology and processes, the rate of mishandled baggage has fallen 70 percent since 2007, hitting a record low in 2016, according to airline technology firm SITA. But airlines aren’t prepared for an unexpected backlog that happens fast, said Robert Mann, an industry consultant and former airline executive.

“When an event like this happens, there’s suddenly no physical manpower to address it,” Mann said. “They are forced back into manual procedures and not equipped to handle it.”

Under U.S. regulations and international agreements, an international passenger whose luggage was lost may be able to recoup up to $1,536. A domestic passenger might claim up to $3,500. For baggage delays, airlines may have to pay “reasonable” expenses.

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-New York) spotlighted the JFK luggage lag Monday while pressing federal transportation officials to urge foreign airlines to work better with the airport’s government and private operators.

(© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)


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