Surviving The Bomb Cyclone At JFK

Authored by:
Berkley B.

After the holidays I am back in Madrid safe and sound, but it was no easy task getting here. My experience of trying to fly out of JFK airport after the Bomb Cyclone was nearly impossible with no answers, many delays, and a lot of frustration. In this post I am going to share my experience of the chaos that went down at JFK and tips on how to survive being stuck in an airport.

After I had spent some time in New York visiting friends it was time for me to head back home to Madrid. I was traveling back with my best friend and roommate who was on a different airline than me. We made our way to JFK airport from Upper Manhattan which is an hour metro ride plus a 10-15 minute air tram to the terminals. On my way, I decided to check into my flight that was scheduled to leave at 10 pm. Once I opened the email and saw the updated time for departure I was in shock. I saw that my flight was now leaving at 6 am the following day and I didn't want to believe it was true. I asked Maria if she had any delays with her flight and as far as she knew she was okay. At this point I was so impatient to get to the terminal and talk to an agent about my flight status. 

I was flying with Air Europa and something you need to know about European airlines is it's common that the check in desk doesn't open until 3 hours prior to boarding. When I finally arrived to Terminal 4 there was a huge line of people waiting to get answers, and I could already feel myself getting impatient. Helpless, I got in line and waited to see if I could find out what was going on. Unfortunately Air Europa hadn't opened their desk yet so all the attendants were setting up their materials to get ready to deal with the sea of confused travelers. Once they opened the desk it seemed like an eternity before it was my turn to speak to an agent. When I went up to the agent I was informed that the flight had been delayed but would be leaving sometime that evening, and I was pleasantly surprised. My bag was checked and I was given a ticket and a $20 dollar voucher to eat dinner. I called Maria since she was at Terminal 1 and she told me that she was experiencing the same thing, and that there was also a huge line of people waiting to get answers as well. I told her to keep her spirits up since I got a voucher to eat and my flight was scheduled to take off. When I was through security I felt better since my flight was on the board for departures, but there was no scheduled time so I decided to go and grab dinner. After I was finished eating I went to check the status of my flight again and the fight had been taken off the Departures board. I found it strange since I saw two other Air Europa flights that were both going to Madrid but wasn't mine. At that point I was trying not to panic and decided that I would try and get to the gates of both flights and figure out why mine had been taken off. The problem with JFK is that each terminal acts as it's own mini airport. This means that flights were arriving to JFK and there was nowhere to dock them. This meant that even though there was room at Terminal 4 to dock planes that were supposed to dock at Terminal 1, the airport would not allow the planes to dock at a different terminal. This caused chaos and a lot of planes with nowhere to go. 

Regarding the two flights I saw on the board, each attendant I spoke with told me the same and that was they had no information on either flight and they would let us know when they were given further instruction. With International airlines is it's rare to have a desk with an attendant to talk to which was the case in this situation. I was being shuffled around from desk to desk, each worker telling me they don't work for the specific airlines, and that I should call the airline customer service number.When I would call customer service they would tell me to someone that was in the airport, so as you can see this created a very frustrating situation.

After about 3 hours of this cat and mouse game I was exhausted and all I wanted to do was sleep. I found two armchairs that belonged to a Jamba Juice stand, created a bed, and fell asleep. At 4:45 am I was woken up by a rude worker who kicked my chair and told me to wake up because they were about to open the smoothie stand for the passengers coming in in the morning. Since I was up I decided that I needed to clean myself up in the bathroom. I went to the gift shop and bought a toothbrush, toothpaste, dry shampoo, a comb, and a I <3 NY t-shirt which was ironic since I couldn't stand the city at this point in time. A tip I would give to you is to make sure that you pack an emergency kit in your carry on in case you get stranded. Unfortunately I didn't have any of these things in my backpack so I had to buy from the gift shop and it can get pricey. 

After I had cleaned myself up I decided to check my email to see if there were any updated statuses to my flight. I checked my email and the flight had now been delayed to 6 pm, and I couldn't have felt more defeated. I knew it was going to be a long shot, but I started to realize that waiting in the terminal wasn't doing any good. I decided to take my chances to see if there was anyone from the airline I could speak with at the desk. I knew that it was going to be a long shot because of what I explained earlier about the desk not opening until 3 hours to boarding, but I figured since the airport was so chaotic that maybe they would have attendants working overtime. 

Before leaving the terminal I asked a worker in security if I would be able to re-enter with my boarding pass and I was told yes. I decided to leave the terminal and go to the desks and I didn't see any signs for Air Europa. Once I realized that there was no one from my airline available I went in line to go back through security. As soon as I got to the front the man checked my ticket they told me that I was not allowed back in because my flight was not scheduled for later that evening. 

Upset, I felt like I was deserted on an island with nowhere to go. I curled up in a corner and fell asleep for another two hours. Once I woke up I realized I was hungry so I decided to go to a cafe that was on the ground level. I ordered a coffee, eggs, and sausage and decided to try and check my flight status again. Not surprised the flight had now been delayed to 10 pm that night. I couldn't believe it as I was sitting there eating my breakfast. I felt hopeless and started to accept that I would be in the airport all day. I sat for two hours enjoying my coffee and working on my laptop. At this point I was constantly checking my email to see the updated times. Around lunch I re-checked the flight again and the updated time was 4:45 am.

I knew that I would have to get a hotel because there was no way I was going to spend all day and night at JFK again. With some help I found a room that was close to the airport and decided to try and get my checked bag before leaving so I could change into clean clothes. At the baggage claim the attendant informed me that my luggage was in a crate in storage and I was unable to get it. After that I was done and just wanted to take a shower and be in a comfortable bed. I finally took the tram out of the terminal and upon arriving to the hotel I felt much better. I relaxed most of the night, but still worried that tomorrow's events would be a repeat of what I just experienced. I set my alarm for 3 am praying that I would get on a flight the following day. 

At 3 am I woke up early and checked my flight status. The flight had new been delayed to 6 am which was only an hour so I decided to head to the airport and remain positive. When I entered Terminal 4 there were signs for Air Europa and I my spirits were lifted. Once I was checked in I got into the long line for security. I was at the front ready to go through the main checkpoint the man told me my ticket had not been stamped properly and I would need to go back to the check-in desk to get it stamped. Furious I ran back to the check-in, got my ticket stamped, and returned back in line for the second time. 

After I was finally cleared through the terminal we had 10 minutes before boarding began. I made it to the gate, but we were informed there had been a gate change which of course was on the other side of the terminal. We ended up waiting an hour before boarding began so I got a coffee and made a new friend who was on the same flight as me. She was an older woman in her 60's who was telling me that Madrid was her connecting flight. She was going to be teaching at a University in Rome for the next year. In my mind I was thinking at least Madrid is my final destination.

Once everyone's tickets were checked we were all taken to a room to wait for buses to take us to the plane since it wasn't docked. This whole process was beginning to feel like a marathon, but I knew we were in our last miles and I could taste the finish line. Finally the buses came and took us to the aircraft. After about thirty minutes the regular routine began and we were heading to the runway. I had the biggest smile on my face because the nightmare was finally over and I knew all I had was another 6 hours before I would be back in Spain.

After landing, getting my baggage, and finally in my own bed which what seemed like years I started to contemplate the experience that I had just lived the last two days. I learned a lot from my experiences with dealing with airport delays. First, try to remain calm when things don't go as planned. Second, patience is a must when your flight is delayed and no answers are given. Third, I learned that in the end you are going to get out so just try to remain as positive as you can for your own well being. Other than that make sure you have an emergency kit in your carry on because you never know what craziness an airport will bring. Always be prepared with food, water, toiletries, chargers, a change of clothes etc... It's safe to say that I am happy to have a break from traveling and enjoy my next month and a half grounded in Madrid. Until next travels... :) 

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