A loud shriek pierces the corridors of Terminal C at Orlando International Airport. A woman jumps from her seat yelling into her phone at the top of her lungs, swearing and pacing around the terminal.
It’s 9 p.m. on Monday night, twelve hours after passengers for JetBlue flight 2528 began arriving for their flight to Newark, New Jersey. Tempers are short, patience is waning. Travelers are tired after sitting in uncomfortable chairs all day and purchasing expensive airport food.
Severe weather is wreaking havoc in the northeast, particularly in the New York City area. More than 1,500 flights within, into and out of the U.S. were canceled as of Tuesday afternoon, with more than 360 of those flights going into and out of Newark Liberty International Airport, according to online tracker FlightAware. LaGuardia Airport had 240 cancellations, while John F. Kennedy International Airport had 90.
Newark, LaGuardia and JFK airports were all at a ground stop for periods of time Monday, not allowing flights in and out of the airports due to severe weather. I was among the crowds at the airport trying to get home to New Jersey on JetBlue flight 2528 Monday after the Investigative Reporters and Editors conference in Orlando.
For a brief moment, there was a glimmer of hope: At 1:30 p.m., two hours after the flight was supposed to depart, there was a window when the ground stop was lifted at Newark. We all boarded the plane, only to be told a half hour later to deplane as the halt was back on.
For the next eight hours, it would be a waiting game. Could the plane actually take off? Will we ever get home to see our loved ones?
With challenges come the most unexpected camaraderie. Suzy Bashjawish, 23, a baker in Westchester County, New York, offered me some of her Chick-fil-A fries. She had been waiting to get on a plane home since Sunday afternoon, to no avail.
Worn down and tired on her second day of waiting at the airport, Bashjawish set up a sleeping spot by Gate C245A, with a pillow and a blanket.
"These past two days have been difficult," said Bashjawish, who went to Orlando on a Walt Disney World vacation. "Unfortunately, due to weather in New York and New Jersey, nothing was able to help us, no other airline was available."
After waiting the first day Sunday, Bashjawish arrived at sunrise with her friend to the airport Monday full of hope. By sunset at 8:30 p.m., hope was fading. She picked up her luggage at 11 p.m., after a 16-hour day. JetBlue did not cancel the flight until 10 p.m., which meant that passengers could not get their checked luggage and had to wait at the airport. There would be no reimbursement for hotel costs as the cancellation was weather-related. Passengers received $12 meal vouchers for airport eateries, which were all closed by then.
Julie Kim, of Montclair, New Jersey, had the same issue of waiting without a flight cancellation. She and her family were vacationing in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and were expected to fly to Newark Sunday. As of Tuesday afternoon, they are in Charlotte, North Carolina.
The family originally arrived at Fort Lauderdale airport Sunday and waited for several hours before the flight was canceled. There were no more one-way car rentals, so the family took an Uber ride to Fort Myers, Florida, seeing there was a flight to Newark with a connection in Charlotte.
On Monday, their flight circled around Charlotte due to weather, and they missed the connection. They are hoping to get on a flight to LaGuardia Airport on Wednesday.
Disruptions for air travelers continued Tuesday with more than 2,400 flights across the United States delayed or canceled after powerful storms ripped through parts of the country, including the Mid-Atlantic and parts of the Northeast where many busy hubs are located. That's still a major decrease from Monday’s chaos, when more than 8,000 flights were either delayed or canceled because of severe weather and air traffic control staffing issues. Kim and her children realize that they are fortunate to have the means to be able to stay in a hotel and get warm meals.
"What if you didn't have the extra money?" Kim asked rhetorically.
Bashjawish is losing money, as she is not working and has to put extra expenses on her credit card.
"It sucks to have to spend all this money and put all this on our credit cards," she said. Tonight, Bashjawish will try again to get back to the New York City area on a 7:35 p.m. flight. I am rebooked on the same flight. Perhaps we'll talk over Chick-fil-A fries again. This time, the fries are on me.
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