Passengers stranded for 12 hours on plane

Cathay Pacific is looking into why passengers were stuck for hours on the tarmac at JFK International Airport in New York after a major snowstorm walloped the northeastern United States.

Cathay Pacific said it is looking into why passengers were stuck for hours on the tarmac at JFK International Airport in New York after a major snowstorm walloped the northeastern United States.

Passengers on one flight from Vancouver did not deplane until about 12 hours after the flight had landed.

"It wasn’t fun with three children sitting there," said Vincent Butcher. "We were already delayed three or four hours getting onto the plane. And then once we arrived, to have to sit there for 12 hours wasn’t the best."

Butcher told CNN his family was forced to wait again once they were off the plane because there was no one available to help them track down their luggage.

Passengers on another Cathay Pacific flight from Vancouver were stuck for about 7½ hours.

Passengers wait at JFK International Airport in New York on Monday after a fierce snowstorm delayed flights in the U.S. northeast. ((Jessica Rinaldi/Reuters))

"We were all kind of in the dark," said Amber Hui. "We still don't know exactly what happened. We saw the story on CNN when we were in the customs lineup. It was a lot more than we knew. We were hearing about another plane in front of us that had been waiting for longer."

Hui said it took a few more hours to get though customs after passengers finally got off the plane.

Gus Whitcomb, a spokesman for Cathay Pacific, said the problem was that when the flights arrived, no gates were available.

"We’re going to have to go back and look at the circumstances that surrounds that," Whitcomb said.

"We have some passengers who were kept on the tarmac far longer than was acceptable. We apologize to them and we're going to do what we can to make that right," he said.

Whitcomb said that because of the ramp conditions, they could not use buses to take the passengers off the plane. He added they would also be looking at possible compensation.

Air travel in the country's busiest, most crowded airspace nearly shut down completely after the storm socked the U.S. northeast with more than 60 centimetres of snow on a holiday weekend, plaguing travellers.

New York's LaGuardia airport and JFK began to receive inbound flights Monday night, while Newark, N.J., began receiving inbound flights Tuesday morning.

Nearly 1,500 flights were cancelled at all three airports during the storm and all three reported delays Tuesday afternoon.

New York City digs out

Meanwhile, crews in New York City were still working to dig out from the blizzard that dumped 51 centimetres of snow in Central Park.

The storm was sprawling and fickle, dropping 73 centimetres on Staten Island, 81 centimetres on Rahway, N.J., about 30 centimetres on Philadelphia and 48 centimetres in South Boston, according to the U.S. National Weather Service.

Pedestrians cross a snow-covered portion of Times Square in New York City, which was slammed by a fierce winter storm Sunday and Monday. ((Mike Segar/Reuters))

In New York, outer-borough residents complained of a sluggish response by snowplow crews who hadn't finished clearing the streets. State Senator Carl Kruger, a Democrat who represents Brooklyn, called the city's response a "colossal failure."

Fire officials said the unplowed streets and abandoned cars made it harder to respond to emergencies, including a five-alarm, wind-whipped blaze at a Queens apartment building Monday night.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg defended the city's cleanup effort, saying the crews were hindered by abandoned cars on the streets.

"There's no reason for everybody to panic," he said. "Our city is doing exactly what you'd want it to do."

After spending Sunday night tossing and turning on airport floors, thousands of bleary-eyed travellers spent Monday standing in lines, begging for flights, fighting for taxis and hunting for hotel rooms.

The storm wreaked havoc on almost every form of conveyance, from the buses at the country's busiest terminal near Times Square to the region's usually punctual commuter trains.

Little problems quickly snowballed: On New Jersey's Garden State Parkway, a motorist struggled to find the shoulder of the road after his wife went into labour, causing a traffic jam that eventually stranded 30 vehicles, state trooper Chris Menello said.

With files from The Associated Press