Major airports around NYC up and running, albeit slowly

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Video: Northeast airports reopen with limited service

Days after Superstorm Sandy turned flying into a waiting game, airports into hotels and runways into rivers, travelers are on the move again as the word “canceled” began disappearing from flight status boards.

All three New York-area airports are finally back in service and gradually returning to normal.

LaGuardia reopened on Thursday morning after flooding from Sandy forced its closure at the height of the storm, with water right up to the jet bridges. Carriers will be providing limited service, the Port Authority of New York New Jersey cautioned.

“It’s been a mess here over the last few days and today, it’s going to be slow going,” NBC News’ Tom Costello said on the TODAY show.

“The airlines have to fly planes in before they can fly planes out … (and) a big problem has been getting the employees to the airport because many employees have been stuck.”

John F. Kennedy International and Newark International are open for a second day, but flight service is still not fully restored and varies by carrier. If you have a flight scheduled at any of the New York-area airports, officials are strongly urging you to check the status with your airline before heading out.

Airlines canceled about 600 flights on Thursday, according to FlightAware.com. That’s relatively few compared to earlier in the week when thousands of flights were being scrubbed each day. In all, carriers have canceled about 20,000 flights since Sunday, when the storm began to menace the Northeast.

“Barring any unforeseen airport damage or operational issues, such as the ability for staff to get to the airport, road warriors should pretty much be back in business on Monday,” said Rick Seaney, CEO of FareCompare.com.

“The trend in cancellations since Monday is a hockey stick in the downward direction.”

Delta is near its full usual schedule at JFK International on Thursday and expects to operate 50 percent of its schedule at LaGuardia.

United has increased its operations at JFK International and Newark Liberty and is offering limited flights at LaGuardia.

American Airlines is flying a full schedule at JFK and about 70 percent of its schedule at LaGuardia and Newark. The carrier is also operating additional flights into JFK to help passengers impacted by cancellations earlier in the week.

JetBlue is operating 80 percent of its total schedule, aiming to return to 100 percent by Saturday. All JetBlue flights originally scheduled to depart from LaGuardia on Thursday will depart instead from JFK International. The airline expects to resume service at LaGuardia on Friday.

Getting around in New York remains a problem as the city struggles to restore subway service. To avoid gridlock in the Big Apple, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has declared a transportation emergency and announced that fares on all mass transit will be suspended for Thursday and Friday.

Related: Commuters face obstacles and long lines in New York

“We want to get people back to work, but we are asking our customers for patience and understanding as they confront crowding and long lines as we repair our system,” said Joseph Lhota, chairman and CEO of New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

“Be flexible about your travel times. We have come a long way in a short time to repair the damage from the most devastating event to strike our transportation system.”

Limited subway service began in the Big Apple on Thursday morning, but there is almost no subway activity below 34th Street, Costello said.

“That has been a real problem for folks in New York City,” he added. “If you are driving into Manhattan, the mayor has ordered that you cannot be in a car with fewer than three people.”

Meanwhile, car rental companies are reporting unusual activity in the wake of the storm, with travelers desperate to get moving.

“It’s people saying, ‘I’m stuck, I’ve got to get out of here’,” said Richard Broome, a spokesman for Hertz.

The company estimates it will have rented 10,000 cars one-way from the storm-affected area, compared to a few hundred — at most — reservations of this type at this time of the year, Broome said. It means lots of people are picking up a car at one location and dropping it off at another far

“For this kind of activity, you only see it during truly catastrophic events. Major natural disasters and, for example, 9/11,” Broome said.

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