Thousands of Airline Passengers Forced to Postpone Travel After Winter Storm

Hundreds of passengers were stranded for hours overnight on airliners that couldn't take off from John F. Kennedy International Airport because of the ice and snow storm that pummeled the Northeast.

The exact number of planes stuck on the tarmac was unclear, but irate passengers reported that the problems seemed to affect several airlines, and may have been linked to shortages of deicing fluid at the airport.

Rahul Chandran said he was trapped aboard a Cathay Pacific Airways jet from midnight until nearly 9:30 a.m. Saturday, when the flight to Vancouver was finally canceled.

Throughout the night, the pilot repeatedly described problems with deicing equipment, including a lack of fluid, that kept the plane waiting endlessly to have its wings sprayed. When the airline finally gave up and tried to return the plane to its terminal, it took at least another hour to arrange a gate, he said.

"You can't keep your passengers on the plane for 9 1/2 hours," said Chandran, 30, of New York City. "They kept saying 'half an hour more, 45 minutes more.' But by the time it got to hour six, we were pretty much accepting that we weren't going to go ... At least in the terminal, you can get up and walk around."

One Virgin Atlanta flight from London was diverted to JFK when the weather temporarily closed Boston's airport Friday evening. The plane, with about 200 passengers on board, sat on a taxiway for around six hours before it could take off again, said Virgin spokeswoman Brooke Lawer.

The plane, which was supposed to have arrived in Boston at 6:30 p.m. Friday, finally touched down there at 4 a.m. Saturday.

The problems weren't restricted to JFK. At Newark International, Karen Opdyke was trying to get to Miami for a cruise with her husband, three young children and mother after their 9 a.m. Friday flight was canceled.

"We got on the plane, we got off the plane. We got on the plane and off the plane," said Opdyke, 48.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the metropolitan area's airports, said airlines — not the airport — are responsible for supplying and maintaining terminal deicing equipment.

A month earlier, JetBlue stranded passengers on several planes for up to 10 1/2 hours during the Valentine's Day storm. The airline was unable to resume normal operations for days.

For this storm, JetBlue took no chances of a repeat. It canceled about 400 of 550 of all scheduled flights across the country Friday because of the weather, rather than risk leaving more people stuck aboard idle planes.

JetBlue expected mostly normal operations Saturday, said spokeswoman Jenny Dervin.

Friday's snow, ice and rain storm closed schools in parts of the Northeast and made highways treacherous. The weather was blamed for nearly a dozen traffic deaths in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Maryland.