Stranded Travelers Wait as City Tourism Takes a Big Hit

Officials rolling out discounts, showers, for struck travellers

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    Stranded travelers to Europe wait in Terminal 8 at JFK airport on April 18, 2010 hoping for word that the travel restictions in Europe will be lifted and it will soon be safe to fly.

    Stranded passengers slept on cots Monday and waited for word on when they could leave the airport where they have been stuck for days, while tourism officials estimated travel disruptions caused by the Iceland volcano eruption could cost New York City up to $30 million.

    As volcanic ash shut down European airports for a fifth day, Marjan Inbar of NYC & Company, the city's tourism arm, said international tourists make up 20 percent of visitors to New York but account for half of all tourism spending.

    Weary Travelers Trapped at JFK Ration Food, Count Pennies

    [NY] Weary Travelers Trapped at JFK Ration Food, Count Pennies
    It's a situation nobody could predict, and some travelers stuck at NYC airports are trying to make it through a tough situation. (Published Monday, Apr 19, 2010)

    Passengers at Kennedy International Airport said they were running low on money and vacation days, not to mention patience.

    "We have been sleeping here for three days," Chantal Dierick, 56, of Tournai, Belgium, said near her airport cot. "One night in a hostel only to have a shower and a good bed. Now it's impossible because we have no money."

    "Day by day we can see: Canceled, canceled. We don't know if the flight will be possible in one day, one week, two weeks," said Dierick, a school director, who was trying to get home after a vacation in Costa Rica.

    Residents of the mini-encampments brushed their teeth and hair in restrooms; a consulate handed out apples, granola bars and chips. Some friendships were formed amid the mutual misery.

    About 250 passengers remained stranded at Kennedy Airport Monday — down from 1,000 over the weekend, according to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which runs the airport. The agency planned to park trailers with shower stalls between two terminals on Monday afternoon.

    Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the city was trying to get stranded passengers discounted hotel rooms and sent community outreach workers to the airport, but said it was difficult to provide much help because passengers are spread out all over the terminals.

    "It's a little hard to get your hands around because there's no central place where people go, " he said.

    Tourism chief George Fertitta, head of NYC & Co., said the total loss of economic activity to the city would likely be around $20 to $30 million.

    Heiko Ung, 23, who was trying to get back home to Frankfurt, also spent the weekend at the airport, sleeping on a green cot with a white blanket provided by the American Red Cross. He said his airline told him he might fly out Wednesday.

    "After six days of shopping in New York we need a hotel for free. I still get paid but not forever. That hurts," he said. "I have 26 days for a year and now it's going away."

    Overall, NYC & Co. estimates the city could lose $250 million in tourism-related revenue because of the ash cloud.

    For every 1,000 visitors who do not arrive, the city loses approximately $1.5 million, it said.

    In a worst case scenario, NYC & Co. estimates that 160,000 visitors could cancel their trips to New York over a two-week period, beginning last Thursday. In a typical April, 12,000 people from Europe visit New York City and spend $3 million a day.

    But the agency said it assumes that 80 percent of those visitors will come to the city at some point later this year, so there's a significant chance that the loss could be made up, said NYC & Co. spokeswoman Tiffany Townsend.

    "We will actively work to continue to attract visitors to the city for both business and leisure travel," she said.

    NYC and Co. has set up a website dedicated to discounts and free events stranded passengers can take advantage of, such as Broadway tickets, museums and restaurants.

    Some events were affected by the flight disruptions.

    Organizers of the Tribeca Film Festival say some directors and actors may not make it to New York. The festival starts Wednesday.

    Mandy Rowse, 47, who was trying to get home to London where she works in a plumbing shop, said she had planned to fly to Heathrow in Sunday.

    "I'm making the best of it. The hotels are fully booked," said Rowse, who is traveling with several friends. "We phoned home and they are trying to find us a hotel. If we stay here, we won't be spending any money."

    She said the airline said they would be able to go home April 30 and gave them a spending allowance. They planned to stay in the airport.

    At Newark International Airport, some passengers might not be able to get out until the end of the week -- more than 7 days after the eruption.

    One family, the Jordans of England, were looking at a ten-day wait at the airport before being rescued by good Samaritans who saw their story on NBCNewYork's 11 p.m. news Sunday night.

    New York City Office of Emergency Management Commissioner Joe Bruno says the Red Cross is providing up to 800 cots and "comfort kits" at the various airports.

    Chris Ward, Exec. Dir. of Port Authority, said the Transportation Security Administration has a "commitment for additional staffing" once flights start to open up, to minimize the impact of any "mad rush."

    There will also additional PA security staffing at JFK and Newark and the food courts "have been opened til midnight," said Ward. For now the Port Authority has brought two "shower trailers" to Kennedy Airport, with 18 stalls each and fully equipped with soap and towels for passengers without the use of cleaning facilities.

    Bruno added that there was talk of using "faith-based programs" to provide shelter -- but there may be insurance and liability issues.