How do stranded travellers keep themselves busy?

2010-04-20 08:05

What do the hundreds of passengers stranded at John F Kennedy

Airport in New York get up to while they wait for the volcanic ash cloud over

Europe to clear and flights to resume?

On Day Five at “Camp Kennedy”, Christien Lynen bathed in an airport

restroom sink with her own soap and the one hand towel in her luggage.

A Belgian family sat on the terminal floor around a coffee table

they built out of a cardboard box.

And in a corner, two British tourists made light of their situation

by scrawling a sign on a sheet of notebook paper: “JFK Squatters, Yorkshire


Stranded passengers have set up mini-encampments, brushing their

teeth and hair in public bathrooms, fending off boredom by constructing a big

cardboard airplane, and sleeping on cots under fluorescent lights amid the din

of televisions and the public-address system.

“Time goes by slow,” said Laurence De Loosa, trying to get home to

Belgium from a vacation to celebrate her 21st birthday with friends.“The lights

were on all night. It was not so easy to sleep. The TV was still on.”

The cloud has paralysed trans-Atlantic flights since Thursday,

causing the biggest flight disruptions since 9/11.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which runs the

metropolitan area’s major airports, has set up 1?000 cots and blankets at JFK

and Newark, New Jersey, served hot meals to the stranded, and handed out

essentials such as bottled water and baby wipes.

The Red Cross and various consulates have provided some of the

bedding and food.

Yesterday afternoon, five days into the crisis, the agency opened

trailers with a dozen showers at JFK.

The approximately 500 people camping out at the Port Authority’s

airports “are being well taken care of,” said Chris Ward, the agency’s executive


Some passengers made JFK their home because hotel rooms were

scarce, they had gone way over budget on their New York vacations, or they just

thought that staying close to the airport was the smartest thing to do if they

wanted to get home soon.

Around the world, hundreds of passengers were having similar

experiences, resting on blankets spread on airport floors and relying in some

cases on McDonald’s meal vouchers.

“We have one meal a day. At the moment a lot of people are not

eating,” Andrew Turner, a graduate student en route to London after a vacation

in Sydney, said from Incheon International Airport in South Korea.

The passenger experience was more pleasant at Frankfurt Airport in

Germany, where spokesperson Uwe Witzel said the hundreds of stranded travellers

were getting three meals a day, showers, fresh clothing and more.

“We’ve set up an internet lounge, we’ve hired people to entertain

the kids, and we’ve also arranged a spot outside the terminal building where

people can go to get a breath of fresh air and some sun,” he said.

At JFK’s Terminal 4, passengers were putting their personal touches

on their homes away from home.

Andrew Jenkins and Tom Laughton scrawled, “JFK Squatters, Yorkshire

Branch” above their cots. Jenkins, 23, from Yorkshire, England, was relying on

Red Cross blankets and $10 daily food vouchers from the Irish airline Aer


“We were expecting to be sleeping on the floor,” Jenkins said. “As

long as we keep getting food vouchers, it’s not going to kill us, is it?“

For Johan Bombeke, wife Annemie Quintiga and their three children,

being stuck in an airport was no reason not to have furniture.

The family arranged the cots they were given in a square, and in

the centre, they put a coffee table, constructed out of the box that the pillows

they received came in.

Alan Godfrey of London staved off boredom by using the boxes the

cots were delivered in to construct a 1.2-meter-long airplane with the sign “Big

Al’s Airways. Tickets Available! $1.” He drew windows on it and attached the

wings with drinking straws.

Godfrey had been at the airport since Friday, marking the passage

of time with little penstrokes on the wall, one for each night.

The “Welcome to Terminal 8” announcement was playing over and over

on the public-address system all night, said Lynen, 49, of Belgium. Lynen ate

fruit, chips, croissants and soda provided by the Belgian Consulate to stranded


“When you’re in a group you’re stronger. Luckily we are all

together. Everyone is very nice. We help each other,” Lynen said.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said community outreach workers have been

sent to JFK to help stranded travellers.

“We love them and we want them to have a good time, but it’s kind

of hard to do when you can’t get your luggage or have to sleep on a cot,” he

said. “There’s no substitute for somebody that wants to get home – they’re not

going to be happy no matter what you do for them.”


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