After Sandy: New York's JFK & Newark Airports reopen Wednesday

By John Walton, November 1 2012
After Sandy: New York's JFK & Newark Airports reopen Wednesday

New York's two international airports, Qantas-served John F Kennedy (JFK) and Newark (EWR), are reopening after Hurricane Sandy. The first flights into NYC will be on Wednesday 31 October US time (very early Thursday morning, 1 November, in Australia).

Flooding from Sandy -- now "just" a post-tropical winter storm system bothering most of the US northeast -- is still affecting smaller domestic LaGuardia airport (LGA).

JFK and Newark will only see Wednesday flights covering what airport operator the Port Authority calls "very limited service", so ensure you check with your airline before heading to the airport.

The problem has been that, when saltwater gets into the sensitive electronics for runway lighting, navigation beacons and everything else at ground level in a modern airport, it's a bit of a nightmare.

Bottom line: very limited flights will resume later this week, but try to postpone your trip if you can.

We're keeping live tabs on what's going on in storm-damaged New York and elsewhere, and our best assessment is that the slow-moving, looping path of the combined former Hurricane Sandy as it merges with an early winter storm means flights in the region will be disrupted until at least the weekend.

On the ground, the size of the storm -- over a thousand miles wide, the distance between Brisbane and Tasmania -- means that repairs and recovery efforts will take more time than you might expect for a regular tropical cyclone.

We'd write off any trip leaving Australia before Sunday at this point, and anyone leaving later should keep a weather eye (excuse the pun) on the news. We'll also keep you updated via our @AusBT Twitter account.

If you do need to travel, make sure you read through our smart traveller's checklist of things to do when you know disruption is on the horizon

JFK's runways were underwater late Monday local time, with waters continuing to rise.. Port Authority
JFK's runways were underwater late Monday local time, with waters continuing to rise.
Port Authority

For signs that New York is reopening, look at subway operator the MTA, the New York Stock Exchange and In Washington DC, there's an even easier check: if the US Federal Government's OPM status page says "closed", the entire city basically shuts down.

Another useful check is the airport operators: New York Port Authority for JFK, Newark and LaGuardia, or the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority for Washington Dulles and National.

Beware of getting stuck in the US

Don't forget, if you do get stranded, the airlines aren't bound to put you up in a hotel if your flight is cancelled or your trip delayed due to weather.

Your travel insurance may not be much use either: policies often exclude claims from natural disasters, and nearly all insurance fine print includes a "reasonable awareness" clause.

That means if you travel after you should have been "reasonably" aware that problems were likely, you're unlikely to receive compensation. With a major, well-forecasted storm like Sandy, you're probably out of luck if you start travelling now.

Airlines: rolling cancellations and waivers

Airport operator the Port Authority has not yet announced opening times for the airports. With a barely-coping website, the Port Authority is relying on brief updates via its @NY_NJairports Twitter account for updates.

Delta Airlines, however, says:

"Delta will resume limited flying to LaGuardia and Newark Liberty Wednesday evening for a Thursday morning restart. At John F. Kennedy International, Delta expects to resume limited domestic flying Wednesday afternoon. Flying has resumed at other U.S. East Coast airports."

Qantas is cancelling flights on a day-by-day basis, while many US airlines have issued blanket waivers of change fees through the end of this week and even beyond.

Qantas has issued change fee waivers and says: "QF107 from Los Angeles to New York and QF108 from New York to Los Angeles for Tuesday 30 October and Wednesday 31 October have also been cancelled due to damage to airport infrastructure.

At this stage Qantas services for Thursday 1 November will operate as scheduled however are subject to further assessment."

Jetblue, an airline with a major hub at JFK, aims to fly arrivals-only to JFK on Wednesday, run 50 percent of its departures on Thursday, 75 percent Friday and 100 percent on Saturday. 

Getting there will be tricky, though -- subway stations are flooded, like this one at South Ferry. MTA
Getting there will be tricky, though -- subway stations are flooded, like this one at South Ferry

But expect delays at the airport: with the NYC Subway serving JFK and the trains serving Newark shut down, staffers will find it difficult to get in to work, so queues any time you need to deal with a person are likely -- at check-in, security, lounges, boarding and on the plane.

"By midday tomorrow, we will be able to discuss a timetable for service restorations," subway boss Joe Lhota said late Tuesday in New York (Wednesday afternoon in Australia). 

Alternative options include White Plains (HPN), Stewart (SWF), Hartford (BDL) within a few hours' drive, with larger airports in Philadelphia (PHL), Boston (BOS) and Washington's Dulles (IAD), National (DCA) and Baltimore-Washington (BWI) also an option.

But bear in mind that the storm formerly known as Sandy is now a massive winter weather system over 850 miles wide -- that's about the distance from Brisbane to Melbourne. Other airports are likely to see widespread intermittent delays.

How to plan for a trip

Resilient planning is the name of the game if you absolutely must be in New York or the tri-state area of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut next week.

For the very latest about getting around the city, head to and follow the Twitter account @MTAInsider -- which is also posting some truly stunning images of storm damage and flooding.

If you're flying in, consider making a backup booking with a fully refundable ticket. If you're booked with one airline or set of partner airlines, make your backup booking with another, potentially to a different airport.

In the event of problems, the "virtual networks" of codeshare partner airlines (like Qantas + American, or Virgin Australia + Virgin America) are less resilient than flights on a single airline. The "you'll have to talk to the other airline" response can be absolutely maddening.

Consider booking with airlines that fly all the way through on their own "metal" like Qantas (via Los Angeles LAX to New York JFK) Delta, United, Air Canada or Hawaiian Airlines.

You may have better luck positioning yourself to a West Coast airport like LAX and holing up in a hotel until flights restart, if that's an option for your budget and the way you work.

Expect damage to high-rise hotels, especially in New York City, so make a backup booking in a different hotel in a different part of town.

Rental car companies have moved much of their fleet out of the way, since their car parks are in low-lying airport areas. Expect delays in getting cars back to affected areas, and make more than one backup booking.

For the very latest on Hurricane Sandy, follow Australian Business Traveller on Twitter: we're @AusBT.

John Walton

Aviation journalist and travel columnist John took his first long-haul flight when he was eight weeks old and hasn't looked back since. Well, except when facing rearwards in business class.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

25 May 2012

Total posts 580

In theory, its also possible to reach NYC from Boston or Washington DC reasonably quickly on Amtrak's Acela Express HSR services, if they're not also knocked out.

03 Jan 2011

Total posts 666

Acela is likely among the worst affected services since it runs basically at sea level for much of the distance. (Nor is it, frankly, "HSR"!) The Metroliner is more likely to restart faster, but driving will be your best bet.

Hi Guest, join in the discussion on After Sandy: New York's JFK & Newark Airports reopen Wednesday