Stranded Fliers Get Busy Signals

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Frazzled fliers are starting to lose it with airlines after putting up with endless telephone loops saying someone will be with them shortly, having airline Web sites crash, or standing on line at terminal counters for hours only to find out that they were in the wrong line.

"It's completely inhumane," Karen Cumming of Ontario told ABC News after sleeping on the floor of New York's Kennedy International Airport for two days. "It's like you're a refugee in a third world country."

"What people find so appalling is the complete lack of communication of any kind with the passengers," Cumming said.

The air traffic chaos caused by the massive East Coast blizzard continued today for the fourth day and airline officials said some people won't get home until next year as airlines and airports struggled with tons of snow and terminals full of testy travelers.

JetBlue, based at New York's JFK, had more than 120 flights were cancelled today out of 727 that were planned in a reduced schedule. And Newark International airport was able to open up a second runway today.

Airlines were yet to get all their flights off the ground. Continental scratched 120 take-offs this morning while Delta said they had 30 cancellations. US Airways canceled 10 flights and United dropped four, but those numbers were far lower than the thousands of flights that were grounded in recent days.

Like thousands of frustrated fliers, Melissa West Hoistilla just wanted to go home.

She has been stuck at Chicago's O'Hare airport after spending three days at Spain's Madrid airport, where her husband got the last seat to Cincinnati.

"I don't even know where he is right now," she said.

Hoistilla spent two hours in line at the United Airlines ticket counter, hoping for a seat to Cincinnati.

"I found out that I was sent to the wrong counter, so I now have to stand in this line for United and I think I've missed my flight," she said.

Other travelers on four international flights into Kennedy Airport had to spend the night aboard planes on the tarmac because airport and customs officials were not equipped to accept passengers.

Some people have now been told there won't be seats on flights for them until sometime during the new year.

"There is an eight to 10 hour wait just to get to a ticketing agent," one traveler at Los Angeles International Airport said Tuesday. "The ticketing agent tells you at that point that the first available flight to Newark or anywhere on the East Cast is Jan. 1 or 2."

Passengers from coast to coast had one persistent complaint: They couldn't get answers from anybody at the airlines.

Phone lines jammed with multi-hour waits and airline websites crashed at points because of the increased volume. Now the airlines don't just risk losing millions of dollars but also thousands of passengers burned by bad customer service.

"I tried to reach Continental for 15 hours, including overnight, before I was finally connected to the automated system," said Robin Taylor Roth, who was trying to fly from her home in New Jersey to visit her 93-year-old mother in Toronto.

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Other fliers told similar stories of spending hours on hold with JetBlue, Delta, US Airways and other airlines that have larger operations in the Northeast.

"We are seeing higher than normal call volumes due to the storm, but we have been reminding our customers about the online tools we have for them to check flight status, be proactively notified about their flight or make changes to waiver-eligible flights online," US Airways spokeswoman Michelle Mohr said.

Fees Waived

Most airlines have waived change fees for passengers willing to travel at a later date.

But making changes online -- the new norm in the travel world -- isn't easy for everybody. This is especially true when code-share flights, in which one airline sells tickets on another carrier, are involved.

Allison Winfield learned the hard way after booking a ticket on Travelocity from New Jersey to visit family for New Year's in Chicago. The flight -- Continental 6647 -- uses a plane operated by United Airlines, which recently merged with Continental.

"If you use the online engine, there is no notification that your fee will be waived," she said of Continental's site.

So she called Travelocity and United, which referred her to Continental. Despite numerous calls and spending hours on hold, she has had no luck with Continental. After 45 minutes with a looping message telling her to stay on the line, the phone switched over to a busy signal.

"While I was thinking yesterday that I would reschedule, now I am just thinking: Give me my money back," she said.

Continental spokeswoman Christen David said, "We have all available resources handling calls, including all supervisory personnel and hundreds of home agents. We're reiterating that the fastest and most convenient way to change travel plans is via"

Hitting the Road Home

Other travelers are just giving up and hitting the roads. Alan Locher and partner Ray Turoczy were stuck in North Carolina after visiting family. They were supposed to fly back Tuesday but were told by JetBlue that the next available flight would be at 6 a.m. New Year's Day.

"My reaction was pretty much wow," Locher said.

The airline never sent them notification of a flight cancellation. They only learned of the cancellation when Locher tried to print out their boarding passes in advance.

So they rented a car and set out for an 11-hour drive home. Not the worst situation, he said, but not ideal.

Emilian Emeagwali and her five children spent nearly a week at Disney World when their flight to New York's Kennedy Airport was canceled Sunday because of the blizzard.

They took a flight to Buffalo and planned to take public transportation back to their home in Long Island, N.Y.

Once in Buffalo, they discovered no buses or trains were in service, the New York Times reported.

So they opted to take a 13-hour $900 cab ride.

"It was so dark the snow was all over the wind blowing ... I was so scared …, " Emeagwali said. "He [cab driver] was so careful he was driving like 30 miles per hour and if the visibility was too bad he would stop and if any of the kids needed to use the bathroom or need to stretch he would stop."

After leaving Disney World at 9 a.m. on Sunday, the family finally got back to their home on Monday at 10 a.m.

It's Like 'Lord of the Flies'

Those in the airports started to lose patience and civility. One frequent flier leaving Chicago said "O'Hare feels a bit like 'The Lord of the Flies' this morning ... at least for those trying to get to NYC."

"You could feel the tension in the air as passengers who had been stranded since Sunday began to realize today might not be their lucky day," Heather Mikesell told ABC News. "When a couple of passengers tried to cut the line, those who were patiently waiting their turn revolted."

In Cleveland, police officers were called to at least one gate to maintain order.

For many travelers, the airlines' treatment of them has become the final straw in a frustrating few days.

Terry Loerch has been trying to get from Maryland to his home in San Diego but has found that JetBlue canceled his trip and that of others traveling to San Diego. The airline's answer to him: Wait until Jan. 3 to get home.

"In all my decades of flying, I have never been pushed from a flight I scheduled, paid for in advance and planned my trip around," Loerch said. "Their inconsideration and poor business sense is alarming for this day and age.

"Their service was relevant to buying a burger as opposed to a flight, and their solution to send me on an alternate flight six days later preposterous and the worst business model-solution I can imagine."

Delta lost Matt Blaszka's bag on his way out. Now, for his return, he couldn't check in because the airline's website was down for a large part of Monday night.

"The customer service has been poor," he said.

The airlines acknowledge that the phone lines have been jammed but say the situation is improving.

"Call volume has been very high due to two days of airport closures and flight cancellations," said Allison Steinberg, a JetBlue spokeswoman. "As we resume service and begin a return to more normal operations, the call volume has been decreasing and the hold times have been lessening. We're doing everything we can to reaccommodate customers as quickly and efficiently as possible."

ABC News' Leezel Tanglao, Daisha Riley and Sarah Kunin contributed to this report.