Storm Stories: Stranded in New York City

Snowstorm strands travelers from New York to London during the already busy holiday season.


Photo by: © Lisi Niesner / Reuters

© Lisi Niesner / Reuters

When New York City’s sixth-largest snowstorm in history dumped 20 inches on Central Park on Sunday and Monday and sent gusts swirling up to 60 miles per hour at LaGuardia and Kennedy airports, it forced the city’s three major local airports (including Newark) to shut down for nearly 24 hours.

Steve Coleman, a spokesman for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the three airports, said it was the longest simultaneous weather-related airport closure he could remember in his 11 years at the agency.

“Usually it’s only a few hours,” Mubarak Alnuwaif, a Kuwait Airways pilot who had been holed up at the Hilton New York in midtown Manhattan since Sunday, said of airport closures in New York City while his luggage remained at the airport. “We have no clothes; just the uniform,” he said, explaining why he wasn’t outside enjoying the winter wonderland.

Luggage was no problem for Uruguay-bound passenger Maria Isola who was surrounded by a half-dozen suitcases and a flat screen TV box one block away in the lobby of the Sheraton New York Hotel & Towers. Isola and her five relatives, who had dashed out for a meal, had been trying to return to Montevideo since Sunday.

“I’m furious,” Isola said, after she said Delta Airlines told her no seats would be available until Friday. “I told them I’d speak to a lawyer, and they didn’t give me a solution.”

Across the Sheraton lobby near the reservation desk, Pablo Hiriart and his son Pedro said they had been to JFK Airport twice in two days with hopes of returning to Mexico City. They spent Sunday night crammed into a studio apartment in the East Village, compliments of Hiriart’s other son who attends cooking school in Manhattan. The Hiriarts had no problem booking a room at the Sheraton for Monday, but by then Pedro’s father changed AeroMexico’s name to “AeroMaybe.”

Travelers with domestic flights were not immune to the hassles. Two members of the Rutgers University men’s basketball team coaching staff deliberated at another midtown hotel, the Hilton New York on 6th Avenue, about how to rescue their starting point guard, James Beatty, from a North Carolina airport in time for their televised game against North Carolina on Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden. Beatty was home visiting family during a holiday break.

“We want to win, said Brad Wachtel, a Rutgers assistant coach. “We just hope we can get all our players.”

Beatty joined the team around 3 a.m. Tuesday after flying to Philadelphia, taking a car service to New Jersey where he met a Rutgers coach who drove him to the team hotel in New York City.

British honeymooners Joanne and Matthew Williams made the best of it. They were among the first to fly out of Heathrow Airport last week after five inches of snow paralyzed London for four days. “Because of the public backlash [about Heathrow], we re-booked at no additional cost on British Airways,” Joanne Williams said.

Some who drove to New York City endured some weather-related struggles. At the Comfort Inn on the Upper West Side, Sukhbir Bhardwaj’s grey Nissan remained stuck in the middle of West 71st Street for seven hours on Monday. “This should be nothing,” said the Canadian. “In Toronto, they’re so organized, the streets would be plowed by now.”

His marooned car cost him an extra night at the hotel on Monday. The hotel staff found a tow truck that would only take cash to pull the car to the nearest plowed street. “Two hundred fifty dollars to go half a block,” Bhardwaj said, shaking his head.

Another Canadian, who only give her name as Joanne, drove from Montreal to Manhattan on Sunday to sightsee despite blizzard warnings. “Pffft, it doesn’t bother us,” she said as she walked into the Comfort Inn where she was spending the night. “But I’m surprised there are only people sweeping and putting salt on top of the snow, instead of removing the snow.”

As the travel crapshoot continued into the workweek, Alnuwaif, the Kuwait Airways pilot, optimistically boarded a shuttle on Monday back to JFK with hopes of a 9:00 p.m. departure and what he hoped would be a reunion with his luggage and a change of clothes. Even if there were to be additional delays, it would not be enough to keep him out of New York City for work in the near future. “I have to come back [here] Friday,” he said.

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