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Air travel still clogged by hurricane Sandy, but some flights resume

With New York’s airports closed and thousands of flights cancelled, it will take days for air travel to return to normal after hurricane Sandy. But precautions taken by airlines could ease the process.

Hurricane Sandy largely grounded air travel in the nation’s busiest air corridor, and it will take days for travelers to get their plans back on track.

Flooding means it’s unclear when New York’sLaGuardia Airport will reopen. But as the storm moves inland, limited air travel has resumed in the Northeast.

On Tuesday, for example, Alaska Airlines’ morning nonstop from Seattle to Boston was back in action, after being cancelled Monday. While en route, Flight 12 was actually scheduled to land at Boston’s Logan Airport a few minutes early.

But many thousands of travelers who were still searching for ways to, from, or through East Coast airports, confronted the following realities:

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• Sandy has resulted in over 18,100 flight cancellations so far, including nearly 8,000 on Monday and more than 7,000 on Tuesday.

• The major New York City area airports remain closed with no estimated reopen time.

• Airports in WashingtonBaltimorePhiladelphia, and Boston were open but operating with limited flights.

• Passengers are reporting wait times of several hours at most airline call centers.

“Every airline is allowing fee-free changes (and refunds in some cases) for itineraries potentially impacted by the storm,” FlightAware said in a Tuesday afternoon status report, which contained the flight-cancellation totals. “The best way to make flight changes is on airline websites.””

Some passengers have been helped in rebooking by posting Twitter updates about their plight, with a mention of the airline involved. Even as airlines work to restore service and rebook passengers, the tally of Sandy-related flight cancellations could grow.

But when the airports do reopen, lessons that airlines learned the hard way from previous storm-induced disruptions to regular service should help the airlines restore service more smoothly and quickly, even if they’re dealing with a substantial backlog.

“It will probably take until the weekend for things to return to normal,” Rob Maruster, chief operating officer of New York-based JetBlue Airways, told the Associated Press.

Taking a page from a new bad-weather playbook, airlines that had been tracking Sandy for days moved quickly to cancel flights in advance, keeping passengers from congregating in terminals (nothing good can come of that), aircraft scattered at other airports out of harms way, and flight crews and airport staff rested and fresh for the resumption of business.

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“The last few major storms created such gridlock, and such bad will with their best customers,” airlines “just had to shift their behavior,” Kate Hanni, who heads up the passenger advocacy group Flyers Rights, told the AP. “The flying public would rather have their flights pre-cancelled than be sleeping in Chicago on a cot.”