Flights make it to NYC, but are stranded on tarmac

Associated Press
FILE - In this Monday, Dec. 27, 2010 file photo, Kevin Fagan, from San Francisco, talks on his phone while a British Airways airplane sits motionless on the runway at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York. Passengers on two Cathay Pacific flights and a British Airways flight spent hours on the tarmac Monday after landing because there were no gates available for them. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)
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FILE - In this Monday, Dec. 27, 2010 file photo, Kevin Fagan, from San Francisco, talks on his phone while a British Airways airplane sits motionless on the runway at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York. Passengers on two Cathay Pacific flights and a British Airways flight spent hours on the tarmac Monday after landing because there were no gates available for them.

For some airline passengers who were finally able to make it to New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport after a blizzard shut the region down, the travel nightmare started once they landed.

Passengers on two Cathay Pacific flights and a British Airways flight spent hours on the tarmac after landing because there were no gates available for them.

One Cathay Pacific flight that originated in Hong Kong and was diverted to Toronto before landing at JFK sat for more than 10 hours before passengers were allowed off Tuesday morning.

The weary travelers said they were given meager snacks like juice, water, cookies or instant soups. They also said they got conflicting reports about why they could not leave.

"It was so frustrating, just sitting there for hours, waiting for more bad news," said 24-year-old Gigi Godfrey of Belize City, Belize. 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.

Steve Coleman, a spokesman for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the airport operator, said airlines were dispatching planes to the airport without coordinating gate space first.

"So without gate space for them, they have nowhere to go," Coleman said.

The second Cathay Pacific flight — which also originated in Hong Kong and made a stop in Vancouver, British Columbia — sat for about 8 hours after landing at JFK Tuesday. Coleman said Port Authority staff tried to help find a place for that plane to go, even though it's the airline's responsibility.

For passenger Abi Subramanian, an investment banker returning home to New York from a holiday trip in Vancouver, the wait was especially torturous because he was traveling with his 2 1/2-month-old daughter.

"She's been very patient but she's not feeling well," he told The Associated Press shortly before they finally got off the plane. "I've been through this before in New York City," he said, referring to big snowstorms. "There's never been anything like this."

Cathay Pacific spokesman Gus Whitcomb said the planes had taken off under the assumption that they would have somewhere to go upon landing.

"We dispatched the planes expecting we would have gates. That was not the case," he said.

Planes that were expected to depart and clear room for incoming flights were still taking up space, Whitcomb said. He apologized to Cathay's passengers, calling it "one of those situations where the best of intentions didn't go the way we would have liked."

Whitcomb said the airline will try to figure out a tangible way of making it up to passengers.

About 300 passengers on a British Airways flight from London spent more than seven hours overnight at Kennedy.

British Airways spokesman John Lampl said Flight 183 landed Monday night but waited until about 4:30 a.m. for an open gate. By that time, Lampl said, Customs officials had gone home for the night, and passengers had to remain on the plane until more workers arrived at 6 a.m.

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