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Frustrated fliers cope at JFK airport

Jonathan Hammond, center, waits at John F. Kennedy

Jonathan Hammond, center, waits at John F. Kennedy International Airport, Tuesday morning. Hammond has been trying to fly home to Boston since Sunday when a blizzard closed NY's airports. (Dec. 28, 2010) Credit: Kevin P. Coughlin

Passengers whose flights out of Kennedy Airport were canceled held tight to the cots and overturned plastic bins that separated them from the cold floor.

Though most were rendered numb after just a few hours' sleep, others broke out in tears Tuesday, pleading with ticketing agents to give them an idea of when they might return home.

"What do you want me to do?" one agent asked a frustrated would-be traveler inside Terminal 1.

To pass the time, passengers read magazines, listened to their iPods, played solitaire, tapped away at their keyboards and chatted with one another about their shared misery.

Parents rocked their children, daughters called their mothers, and strangers translated instructions for those in need while keeping one eye on the arrival and departure notices to find out if they would be home in time for dinner.

Grounded planes and dissatisfied travelers were still the predominant sight at Kennedy and other area airports Tuesday, despite small signs of progress.

Roughly 900 flights were canceled between Kennedy, LaGuardia and Newark, said Sara Joren, a spokeswoman for the Port Authority. On a normal weekday, total flight volume between the airports averages 3,000, she said.

"It's only two days after everything," Joren said, referring to a blizzard that socked the area Sunday into Monday. "There is a significant amount of cancellations, but planes are arriving and departing."

As of Sunday, the three airports had tallied 1,400 cancellations, Joren said. She could not estimate how long it would take for air travel to resume a normal schedule.

"We're doing everything we can to get people where they need to go," she said.

In all, the airports have used more than 200 pieces of heavy snow equipment over the past two days, including melters that liquefy 500 tons of snow per hour and plows that can clear areas at 40 mph.

Amber Thorpe, a 34-year-old tattoo artist from Halifax, was supposed to be home in Nova Scotia by now. Thorpe came to New York on Dec. 20 to see the sights. She learned Monday afternoon that her flight had been canceled.

Thorpe booked another night in her midtown hotel but later learned the reservation didn't go through. She complained to the hotel manager, but it was too late. They'd already given away her room.

She tried to get a cab to JFK but was turned down by eight different drivers. She took the subway to Brooklyn, hoping for a better shot at a taxi, but she had no luck. She called for hours and could find only a limousine. She arrived at the airport in high style at 10:30 p.m. The ordeal took more than 10 hours.

Thorpe said the atmosphere was tense Monday night. She said the ticketing agents were escorted out by security.

"People were screaming and yelling," she said. "It was insane."

Thorpe - who waited in line until dawn - got just 30 minutes of sleep and was only recently issued a new ticket. Her flight leaves Thursday.

Hundreds of passengers inside Kennedy's Terminal 8, many of whom spent the night in the airport, peppered airline officials with questions and requests to fly standby.

Angel Rodriguez, 32, of the Bronx, was supposed to leave for Ecuador on Monday night to attend his grandmother's funeral.

His flight was canceled, forcing him to spend the night sleeping on the floor.

"They didn't give me a blanket or anything," he said.

Airline officials told him to check back with them at noon but provided no details about when his flight might leave, he said.

Elsa Charles, 30, sat in a quiet alcove inside Kennedy Airport waiting to hear when she might be able to return home to St. Lucia.

Charles, a teacher, was supposed to fly out Tuesday morning. She tried to confirm the flight over the phone Monday night but couldn't reach an agent.

"I had to come all the way here to find out my flight was canceled," she said.

Her ticket has been reissued for Friday.

"I'm trying to get it for Thursday, but no one seems to be canceling," she said, her luggage at her feet.

Charles has a sister in Queens but doesn't want her to make the trek on the city's icy roads. Plus, she said she's afraid to leave the airport in case her flight is bumped up.

Charles said all she wants is to go home: She wasn't prepared to leave her 7-month-old for more than six days.

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