An East Coast blizzard that has shut down airports in New York and New England could leave passengers stranded for days.
Hundreds of people were stuck Monday morning at the three major New York City-area airports. Port Authority spokeswoman Sara Beth Joren said they expected to reopen the runways in the afternoon.
Airlines announced more than 1,000 canceled flights for Monday.
Once the airports reopen, passengers will have a hard time finding open seats on later flights. Seats are already scarce because of the busy holiday season, and airlines are operating fewer flights than they did before the recession.
Boston’s Logan Airport spokesman Phil Orlandella said airlines were saying that rebooking could drag into Friday — the start of another holiday weekend.
Airlines move planes away from the path of big storms to prevent them from being stranded. Now the airlines have to get those planes back to the Northeast before they can fly stranded passengers home. They may also have to ferry pilots and flight attendants into the affected areas.
American Airlines spokesman Ed Martelle said if the weather clears by Tuesday, the airline can resume a normal schedule by Wednesday. He declined to say how long stuck passengers might wait for an empty seat.
"Any airline scheduler will tell you it’s like playing with a jigsaw puzzle where all the pieces keep changing shape," he said. "In some cases we can’t give them a new seat because we don’t know" when one will be available.
By midmorning, American canceled 236 flights for Monday and sister carrier American Eagle scratched another 175. Delta Air Lines canceled 700 flights, US Airways canceled 550 including regional flights, and Southwest dropped 188. United and Continental were updating their figures but had already announced nearly 300 cancelations.
The paralyzing storm in the Northeast comes a week after several inches of snow shut down London’s Heathrow Airport and left travelers sleeping on terminal floors. It took five days for Europe’s busiest hub airport to resume normal operations.