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Long wait greets overseas travelers

Snow covers the tarmac at Terminal 4 at

Snow covers the tarmac at Terminal 4 at Kennedy Airport in Queens. (Dec. 28, 2010) Photo Credit: Getty Images

Short staffing and communication lapses were being blamed for lengthy delays endured on several international flights landing at Kennedy Airport in the aftermath of the blizzard.

Two Cathay Pacific flights spent 10 and eight hours, respectively, on the tarmac Tuesday, while an earlier British Airways flight waited eight hours before its passengers disembarked.

An Aeromexico flight that landed at 1:15 a.m. Tuesday also idled for about six hours, officials said.

Kennedy reopened for departures and arrivals Monday evening, after some of the international flights were already in the air.

When the 300-passenger British Airways 747 from London touched down about 10:30 p.m. Monday, potential terminal gates were either occupied or unplowed.

The search for a terminal took up the first several hours of a nearly eight-hour delay, said British Airways spokesman John Lampl. Then, passengers learned that all available U.S. Customs staff had gone off shift and wouldn't return until 6 a.m., he said.

The passengers got off the plane about 6:30 a.m. after the plane was finally assigned a gate at a different terminal.

"Obviously, there was a lot more confusion than we had anticipated," Lampl said. "It was just one problem compounding another."

Matthew Bishop, an editor at The Economist, was on the flight, and in a series of Twitter postings, reported his agony. "Rumour has it all the immigration staff has gone home, so not sure if we will actually be allowed into America," he wrote at one point.

But customs officials said that its staff was on duty 24 hours a day at the terminal normally designated for international flights. "We work closely with the airlines and airport authorities to ensure adequate staffing is available to process those passengers," the agency said in a statement.

It said that when arrival terminals are closed, flights are typically assigned to other terminals where customs employees are on duty. An agency spokeswoman did not elaborate.

Steve Coleman, a spokesman for the Port Authority, said it is up to individual airlines to ensure they have a gate available upon landing. In Tuesday's cases, that did not always occur.

"That being said, our staff has worked the entire morning to try to find available gates," Coleman said. "We don't have to do that, but we did in this case."

With The Associated Press

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