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U.S. airlines play huge game of catch-up, NY streets slowly open up

NEW YORK – Air, road and rail travellers hampered by a massive snowstorm in the northeastern U.S. were seeing a light at the end of the tunnel Wednesday as snow cleanup progressed and airlines tried to catch up on backlogs.

Most flights at New Jersey’s Newark Liberty Airport were taking off and landing as scheduled Wednesday. Continental Airlines said on its website that its hub there is nearly normal but some cancellations and delays remain.

By morning, most flights at New Jersey’s Newark Liberty Airport were taking off and landing as scheduled. Continental Airlines said on its website that its hub there was nearly normal but that some cancellations and delays remained.

In snowbound neighbourhoods in New York, where hundreds of buses and dozens of ambulances got stuck in the snowdrifts, unplowed roads still hampered bus service Wednesday morning. Officials, while making no promises, had said they hoped to have streets cleared by later in the day.

“It’s a bad situation and we’re working together to correct it,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg said. Some 1,000 vehicles had been removed from three major New York City-area expressways alone, the mayor said.

General delays were reported Wednesday morning at New York’s Kennedy airport, where at least three airliners _ two Cathay Pacific planes and a British Airways plane _ were stuck for more than seven hours Tuesday while they waited for an open gate.

The airport remained filled Tuesday night with passengers on cellphones and laptops, trying to rebook flights, make hotel reservations or figure out alternate plans. Lines at counters for rental cars, ground transportation and lost luggage remained long throughout the day.

More than 5,000 flights were cancelled at the three main airports in New York _ 1,000 on Tuesday alone.

As airlines struggled to catch up, they dispatched planes to Kennedy without lining up gate space first, causing backups on the ground, said Steve Coleman, a spokesman for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the airport.

Gigi Godfrey, of Belize, spent 10 hours trapped in a Cathay Pacific plane until the flight was finally able to deplane on Tuesday.

“It was so frustrating, just sitting there for hours, waiting for more bad news,” the 24-year-old Godfrey said. She was passing through New York after spending Christmas in Thailand and couldn’t remember when she had first boarded a plane.

“I am so tired I don’t even know what day yesterday is,” she said.

Cathay Pacific spokesman Gus Whitcomb said the planes had taken off under the assumption that they would have somewhere to go upon landing. U.S. airlines operating domestic flights are not allowed to keep passengers waiting on the tarmac for more than three hours, but international flights and foreign airlines are exempt from the rule.

At JFK’s Terminal 7, exhausted would-be travellers trapped in the airport for hours _ or in some cases days _ had removed the rope barriers from around a British Airways advertising display touting “new, ”roomier business class seats“ and were sleeping, stretched out or slumped over, in the model airplane seats.

Airport staffers said a small Starbucks counter that was shuttered Tuesday had yet to reopen after running out of supplies on Sunday. The one remaining vendor, a Subway sandwich shop, had huge lines throughout the day.

In New York, service on trains plagued by snow-generated signal problems and short-circuits was improving but not back to normal days after the storm. The Long Island Rail Road, the nation’s largest commuter railroad, had only seven of its 11 lines running.

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