Paul J. Richards / AFP – Getty Images
Stranded between flights, Italian tourists Patrizio D’Emido, left, and his girlfriend Joelle Carota, sit at Ronald Reagan National Airport as Superstorm Sandy blew through Washington, D.C., on Monday.
Stuck. Stranded. In limbo. Whatever you call it, weary fliers grounded by Hurricane Sandy were eager to change their status on Tuesday as airlines and airports began assessing damage from the powerful storm.
On Tuesday, all New York City-area airports were closed, including John F. Kennedy International, Newark Liberty International, LaGuardia and Teterboro. JFK International will be reopened Wednesday, but LaGuardia will stay closed “due to extensive damage,” said New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo during a news conference.
Carriers have canceled 18,000 flights since Sunday, and that number is still expected to grow, according to FlightAware.com.
Video: Airline operations limp back to life
With no way of getting out of or into the Big Apple and other parts of the East Coast by air, there’s a huge backlog of fliers around the country and the world with nowhere to go.
Some travelers spent the night on cots set up at airports including Newark Liberty, Boston Logan International and Chicago O’Hare International. Others snapped up hotel rooms — hotel bookings are up 15 percent in New York City and 68 percent in Washington compared to last week, according to data provided by Orbitz.
The question now: When will airline schedules get back to normal?
“A lot of it depends on what kind of damage they assess at the New York metro airports and when those reopen,” said Jeanenne Tornatore, senior editor at Orbitz.
“Should flights, for example, start going back out tomorrow on a limited basis, we don’t anticipate flight schedules really getting back to normal until late this weekend, early next week,” she said.
Related: Sandy leaves NYC subway system, infrastructure, licking its wounds
There’s already a big backlog of travelers who canceled their flights before the storm so there won’t be a lot of seats to rebook displaced fliers on, Tornatore noted.
Video: NBC’s Tom Costello talks about transportation interruptions for the areas affected by Sandy.
For stranded travelers, there’s nothing to do but wait.
Claire Conroy, who lives south of Boston, is stuck on the West Coast until Thursday. Conroy flew out to San Diego, Calif., with her mother and sister last week to celebrate her niece’s first birthday. When they realized over the weekend that they might have trouble returning Monday as planned, they spent 35 minutes on hold with JetBlue to rebook for a flight on Sunday afternoon. But it was too late.
“When we got to the counter, the flight was still listed as on time but was in fact canceled. The soonest flight we could get on was Thursday afternoon. Even then, only two of us are on that flight — my sister will be (flying) Friday. That’s how fast the seats were filling,” Conroy said.
Slideshow: Hurricane Sandy’s aftermath
Nicole Abramowski — who grew up on Long Island and now lives in Berlin, Germany — was flying home to New York for the first time in over a year to visit friends and family when she got stuck. She made it as far as London, where she was supposed to catch an American Airlines flight to JFK International on Sunday but it was canceled right before the gate opened.
The carrier booked Abramowski on a Thursday flight and put her up in a hotel, but later found out only two nights of her stay are covered and she has to pay for the rest of her accommodations herself.
“Hotel rooms here are 150-200 pounds a night, which is a whole month’s rent for me in Berlin on my salary and completely unaffordable,” Abramowski said, pointing out that she is stuck in one of the most expensive cities in the world.
“After an hour on the phone and taking a bus back to the airport to speak with them in person, they tell me it’s not their responsibility, ‘We didn’t even have to book you into a hotel for those two nights.’”
Her whole hotel is filled with people trying to get to New York, Abramowski said.
“I feel bad for everyone having to deal with this. We have bad timing,” she added.
American Airlines has suspended operations until Wednesday at nine airports in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast, including Ronald Reagan Washington National, Dulles International, Baltimore/Washington International, Norfolk International, Philadelphia International, Newark Liberty International, John F. Kennedy International, LaGuardia and Bradley International.
US Airways has similar closures, plus cancellations at airports in Maine, Vermont, Connecticut and Rhode Island.
Delta Air Lines is resuming flying at Boston Logan and the major Washington-area airports on Tuesday, but its operations continue to be shut down in New York.
United plans to resume inbound flights in the Big Apple on Wednesday. The airline warned that it is experiencing extremely high call volume due to the storm.
JetBlue posted a photo of its planes waiting out Sandy in Puerto Rico and asked passengers for patience.
“We will be ready to start operations as soon as Wednesday morning if the airports and public transportation are open, but we expect it will take much longer to get back to business as usual,” the airline said on its blog.