Tempers Flare at JFK as Delays Linger

Yelling matches at airport as patience thins

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    NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 28: People line up while waiting for a flight at Terminal 4 of John F. Kennedy International Airport December 28, 2010 in New York City. Flights have slowly started to resume in New York after a massive snowstorm crippled much of the Northeastern United States and left millions of holiday travelers stuck at airports and train stations. (Photo by Chris Hondros/Getty Images)

    Stranded passengers lost their tempers and got into yelling matches with airline employees at John F. Kennedy International Airport on Wednesday after delays stymied their plans yet again.

    About 100 people at a Qatar Airways ticket counter were told the airline's planes wouldn't be able to land at Kennedy. The passengers have been waiting several days for flights to take them back to cities in southeast Asia.

    After being brought to a virtual standstill by the blizzard, flights were taking off and landing regularly on Wednesday at New York's major airports. Only a few cancellations were reported, and far fewer passengers were taking refuge on cots and luggage racks. But the flare-up was a sign that some travelers remain far from their final destinations.

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    At the Qatar Airways counter, airline representatives were trying to persuade passengers to take a bus to Washington, where two airplanes were ready to depart. As the crowd surged toward the ticket counter shouting in anger, an airline agent stood on a chair and screamed for people to calm down, telling them that agents were trying to help them.

    Instead of quelling the crowd, his words elicited a roar of protest.

    "There was basically chaos," said Farhan Naqvi, who witnessed the angry crowd. Travelers pounded on the counters and "security was trying to push them back," he said.

    Security guards and uniformed airport officers were summoned to subdue the crowd. There were no reports of injuries.

    Qatar Airways did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Ron Marciso, a spokesman for the Port Authority, which operates the airport, had no report of any incident.

    Naqvi has been driving back and forth from his home in Manhattan for the past three days to drop off his aunt for a flight to Karachi, Pakistan. The flight has been rescheduled and canceled countless times.

    "Think about these people. They've been here for three days," he said. "They've been stranded at the airport, and there's nobody to respond to their queries. So naturally they're getting upset."

    Meanwhile, hundreds of unclaimed bags were piling up on the floor of Terminal 8 — several of them tagged for other airports. Workers had set up rope barriers around the piles and were escorting travelers through the maze to search for their luggage.

    Operations were nearly back to normal at Kennedy on Wednesday, with only a couple dozen canceled flights reported. LaGuardia was slightly worse, with about 80 flights canceled, while Newark was still dealing with about 120 cancellations. That's a small percentage, given the approximately 3,000 flights on average flying in and out of all three airports every day.