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Major airports around NYC up and running, albeit slowly

1 hr.

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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Lords of the gourd compete for Punkin Chunkin world title

2 hrs.

Courtesy World Championship Punkin Chunkin Association

The 27th annual World Championship Punkin Chunkin event in Bridgeville, Del., takes place Nov. 2-4.

Look, up in the sky! It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s a … well, if you’re in Bridgeville, Del., this weekend, it’s probably an 8- to 10-pound pumpkin that’s been launched into the wild blue yonder by a catapult, air cannon or other mechanical contraption.

It’s all part of the 27th annual World Championship Punkin Chunkin event, Nov. 2–4. With teams using more than 100 unique apparatuses to launch globular projectiles a half-mile or more, it’s also our pick as November’s Weird Festival of the Month.

“It’s the combination of creativity and the oddity of it,” said John Huber, president of the World Championship Punkin Chunkin Association (WCPCA), of the event’s appeal. “It’s problem-solving, it’s creative thinking, it’s artistic. You look at these machines and you just go, ‘wow’.”

Those machines include catapults powered by ropes and garage-door springs, high-speed centrifugal launchers and cannons that feature massive tanks of compressed air and barrels stretching 100 feet or more. 

Each one is the result of countless hours of research, construction and pre-competition testing. “Everyone who competes has built something from scratch,” said Daniel Collins, part of Team Chucky — which currently holds the world record in the Adult Torsion (rope-powered) Catapult category, with a launch of 3,636.39 feet.

“People spend an inordinate amount of time doing this,” he told NBC News. “It becomes an obsession.”

Courtesy World Championship Punkin Chunkin Association

The machines used in this event include catapults, high-speed centrifugal launchers and cannons.

That obsession is apparently rather widespread. “We have farmers to dentists to chemical engineers,” said Huber, who happens to be a nuclear engineer. Not surprisingly, perhaps, he’s also a competitor, whose team — Team Hypertension — has built a spring-loaded catapult that sits on a 14,000-pound trailer and generates 30,000 pounds of force.

“We’ve invested $75,000 in this thing and it’s just to throw a pumpkin,” he said.

It all comes together on a field at Royal Farms in Bridgeville, where the competitors — 115 this year, says Huber — set up along a mile-long firing line. Some of the launchers are so big they arrive on flatbed tractor-trailers and have to be assembled on site.

At that point, it’s all about winching ropes, stretching springs, aiming cannon barrels and loading slings, buckets and barrels with the appropriately-plump projectile. Firing one at a time across an open field, the results are tallied by ATV-riding spotters, who presumably manage to avoid the incoming ordnance.

“They measure the point of impact,” said Huber. “Trust me, with these distances, the pumpkins leave a hell of a crater.”

Courtesy Joanne Coward

Team Chucky currently holds the world record in the Adult Torsion (rope-powered) Catapult category, with a launch of 3,636.39 feet.

Meanwhile, back behind the firing line — and protected by a high backstop — spectators can cheer on their favorites, enjoy live music and browse booths selling food, crafts and clothing. There’s also a chili cook-off and pageant competitions for ages 4 to 18-plus.

It’s all in good fun, but also for a good cause. As a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, the WCPCA donates a large share of the proceeds from the event to several charities and scholarship programs. With 75,000 to 100,000 spectators over the course of the three-day event, Huber says those donations run to the “hundreds of thousands of dollars every year.”

As for this year’s event, it’s expected to go on despite any after-effects of Hurricane Sandy and with the usual degree of friendly competition. Collins, for example, has set his sights, not on his fellow catapulters, but on the biggest guns in the game: the air cannons, one of which holds the overall world record of 4,483.51 feet.

“They used to laugh at us but last year we beat 44 percent of them,” he said. “Now they’re looking over their shoulders. It’s only a matter of time.”

Rob Lovitt is a longtime travel writer who still believes the journey is as important as the destination. Follow him on Twitter.

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4 workers hospitalized after fall at Miami airport

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Four workers were hospitalized after they fell from a scissor lift at Miami International Airport Wednesday morning, aviation and fire rescue officials said.

The workers, employees of Commercial Jet, were doing maintenance work on an airplane inside their hangar when they fell, Miami-Dade Aviation spokesman Greg Chin said.

All four were taken to a nearby hospital but one of the employees had a more serious injury than the others, Chin said.

Miami-Dade Fire Rescue officials confirmed the injuries but didn’t give any other details.

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Fed up with waiting, air travelers rush rental car counters

12 hrs.

As hundreds of thousands of fliers still stranded by Superstorm Sandy struggle to get home or resume their disrupted itineraries, many are getting frustrated with air travel and turning to four-wheel transportation options.

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 away, a shift from the typical car rental.

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

Hertz has a very large number of reservations in New York, but it doesn’t physically have enough cars in the city to handle them, he added. The company is moving the cars in as quickly as it can. Orbitz is reporting a 14 percent spike in car rental rates in the Big Apple compared to last week, an indication of increased demand.

For travelers who either couldn’t get a rental car or who are waiting for a flight, there was some good news on Wednesday: JFK and Newark airports provided limited air service. Travelers should check with their airlines before heading to the airport and should take precautionary measures as terminals may have limited food and concessions.

LaGuardia remained closed Wednesday and was described by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo as having suffered “extensive damage.” It will open on Thursday and offer limited service, according to an e-mail alert from the airport.

Video: Stranded travelers ‘not going to get next flight’

Robert Reid is among the many stranded travelers waiting to return home after the storm. On Wednesday, he was in Bogota, Colombia, preparing to fly back to JFK International after Sandy unexpectedly extended his trip to Ecuador by several days. His original flight would have put him in New York on Monday just as the hurricane was arriving, so he was relieved when it was canceled. Reid used the delay to relax in Quito.

“These are crazy times,” said Reid, who is the U.S. travel editor for Lonely Planet. “(But) I can’t complain. I was lucky. I’d rather spend a few bonus days in the Andes with hot chocolate cafes than be stuck back in New York.”

Carriers have canceled more than 19,500 flights since Sunday, according to FlightAware.com. Almost 3,000 flights were scrubbed today, with LaGuardia accounting for most of them.

Flooded subway tunnels and train tracks in New York are having an impact on carriers who may have planes ready to go but whose pilots, flight attendants, gate agents and other employees are having a hard time getting to the airport.

Limited subway service will be restored to 14 of 23 lines on Thursday, Gov. Cuomo announced.

Video: Aerials: LaGuardia tarmac flooded by Sandy

For airlines, it will probably take at least until this weekend for the domestic backlog to sort out, said George Hobica, founder of Airfarewatchdog.com. It could take a bit longer for people stranded in Asia and Europe who are trying to come back to the U.S., depending on the number of flights and seats available.

“But we will see many people deciding not to begin outward journeys or postponing non-essential outbound trips until after the mess clears up, so that will help,” Hobica said.

The big job now for airlines is to assess the damage and regroup:

  • Delta resumed about 50 percent of its schedule at JFK on Wednesday. It expects to resume operations at LaGuardia on Thursday.;
  • United resumed inbound flights to JFK and Newark on Wednesday afternoon;
  • American Airlines plans to operate limited flights into JFK on Wednesday evening and will resume flying out of JFK, LaGuardia and Newark on Thursday morning;
  • JetBlue saw its first arrival at JFK International on Wednesday morning and is looking at a phased return to service. There still will be no JetBlue departures from JFK until Thursday when the airline plans on operating at about 50 percent of its schedule. The airline plans to resume flights at Newark on Thursday.

Airlines will use bigger planes and add more flights to speed things up if they can, said Brett Snyder, who runs the Cranky Concierge air travel assistance service.

“It could have been a lot worse, but this is a lower demand travel time so there is more slack in the system to recover than you’d find around the holidays,” he said.

Click here for full coverage of Superstorm Sandy and its aftermath.

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Few flights leaving JFK, Newark; damaged LaGuardia closed

6 hrs.

Mehdi Taamallah / AFP – Getty Images

New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport resumed light service Wednesday after being closed due to Hurricane Sandy.

As hundreds of thousands of fliers still stranded by Superstorm Sandy struggle to get home or resume their disrupted itineraries, many are getting frustrated with air travel and turning to four-wheel transportation options.

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 away, a shift from the typical car rental.

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

Hertz has a very large number of reservations in New York, but it doesn’t physically have enough cars in the city to handle them, he added. The company is moving the cars in as quickly as it can. Orbitz is reporting a 14 percent spike in car rental rates in the Big Apple compared to last week, an indication of increased demand.

For travelers who either couldn’t get a rental car or who are waiting for a flight, there was some good news on Wednesday: JFK and Newark airports provided limited air service. Travelers should check with their airlines before heading to the airport and should take precautionary measures as terminals may have limited food and concessions.

Video: Airports slowly open after Sandy

LaGuardia remained closed Wednesday and was described by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo as having suffered “extensive damage.” It will open on Thursday and offer limited service, according to an e-mail alert from the airport.

Robert Reid is among the many stranded travelers waiting to return home after the storm. On Wednesday, he was in Bogota, Colombia, preparing to fly back to JFK International after Sandy unexpectedly extended his trip to Ecuador by several days. His original flight would have put him in New York on Monday just as the hurricane was arriving, so he was relieved when it was canceled. Reid used the delay to relax in Quito.

“These are crazy times,” said Reid, who is the U.S. travel editor for Lonely Planet. “(But) I can’t complain. I was lucky. I’d rather spend a few bonus days in the Andes with hot chocolate cafes than be stuck back in New York.”

Video: Aerials: LaGuardia tarmac flooded by Sandy

Carriers have canceled more than 19,500 flights since Sunday, according to FlightAware.com. Almost 3,000 flights were scrubbed today, with LaGuardia accounting for most of them.

Flooded subway tunnels and train tracks in New York are having an impact on carriers who may have planes ready to go but whose pilots, flight attendants, gate agents and other employees are having a hard time getting to the airport.

Limited subway service will be restored to 14 of 23 lines on Thursday, Gov. Cuomo announced.

For airlines, it will probably take at least until this weekend for the domestic backlog to sort out, said George Hobica, founder of Airfarewatchdog.com. It could take a bit longer for people stranded in Asia and Europe who are trying to come back to the U.S., depending on the number of flights and seats available.

“But we will see many people deciding not to begin outward journeys or postponing non-essential outbound trips until after the mess clears up, so that will help,” Hobica said.

The big job now for airlines is to assess the damage and regroup:

  • Delta resumed about 50 percent of its schedule at John F. Kennedy International Airport on Wednesday. It expects to resume operations at LaGuardia on Thursday.;
  • United planned to resume inbound flights to JFK International and Newark Liberty on Wednesday afternoon;
  • American Airlines plans to operate limited flights into JFK on Wednesday evening and will resume flying out of JFK, LaGuardia and Newark on Thursday morning;
  • JetBlue saw its first arrival at JFK International on Wednesday morning and is looking at a phased return to service. There still will be no JetBlue departures from JFK until Thursday when the airline plans on operating at about 50 percent of its schedule. The airline plans to resume flights at Newark on Thursday.

Airlines will use bigger planes and add more flights to speed things up if they can, said Brett Snyder, who runs the Cranky Concierge air travel assistance service.

“It could have been a lot worse, but this is a lower demand travel time so there is more slack in the system to recover than you’d find around the holidays,” he said.

Click here for full coverage of Superstorm Sandy and its aftermath.

41 days

Best apps and websites for travelers

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Subway-dependent businesses see traffic slow to halt 

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