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Terminal chaos for JetBlue in N.Y.

February 18, 2007|Andrew Strickler and Juliet Chung | Newsday

NEW YORK — The scene at JFK's JetBlue Airways terminal Saturday was "organized chaos" in the words of one frustrated passenger as the airline continued to struggle in the aftermath of a Valentine's Day storm.

"We're staring at thousands of bags. We're in a sea of luggage, and it cannot be found," Gary Long, 53, said of his family's luggage. Long's Friday night flight to Houston was delayed six hours, then canceled.

"It's been a nightmare," said Long, who, with his wife and in-laws, had booked a flight on another airline in the hopes of eventually making it to a Caribbean cruise.

Even with blue skies Saturday, JetBlue officials canceled 305 of its estimated 1,200 weekend flights in an attempt to re-establish regular service. The airline's problems began Wednesday as an icy winter storm descended on New York and JetBlue's main East Coast hub at John F. Kennedy International Airport.

The airline experienced near-total gridlock, with hundreds of passengers trapped on runway-bound planes for as long as nine hours.

JetBlue canceled 270 flights on Wednesday, causing many flight crews to be in the wrong cities to start the next day's operations. That caused more delays and cancellations on Thursday and Friday, exacerbating the problem, officials said.

"Basically what's been happening is almost a snowball effect as we've tried to catch up," JetBlue spokeswoman Tracy Sandford said.

The company is constrained by a Federal Aviation Administration rule requiring crews have at least eight hours of rest between shifts. Further cancellations on Monday were possible, Sandford said.

JetBlue officials would not estimate the number of customers affected by the weekend cancellations.

Company officials said most of the hundreds of pieces of luggage piled up at JFK belonged to customers who checked in for Friday flights that never left the ground.

"We are looking at a bunch of options, including FedEx ... and local couriers to get that luggage back to people," said JetBlue spokesman Mitch Nadler.

The words may offer scant comfort to the hundreds of passengers who dug through piles of bags, cases, and duffels that lined walls and crowded spaces between carousels.

Passengers who weren't searching among the clutter waited in line to report their luggage missing or to be shuttled elsewhere in the airport to search for belongings.

"I just want my bags," said Los Angeles native Becky Rosenberg, 33, as she slouched on a carousel. Rosenberg, a fashion house sales representative, flew into JFK from Las Vegas on standby after JetBlue canceled her original flight.

"Our work samples are in there and we have a trade show starting tomorrow morning at 9 o'clock," Rosenberg said. "It's the loss of potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars."

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