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Stranded Fliers Get Busy Signals

The snow has stopped but some travelers will be stranded until the new year.

ByABC News
December 28, 2010, 4:48 PM

Dec. 29, 2010— -- 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.