Thousands of British holidaymakers stranded in New York and other US cities could face a long wait to get home. Although Hurricane Irene has now been downgraded to a tropical storm, the threat of severe flooding means that delays may continue after it has passed. Meanwhile, the lack of spare seats on flights in the peak holiday season means the backlog of stranded passengers could take many days to clear.
New York's JFK airport closed on Saturday and remained shut yesterday, creating major disruption on the busiest intercontinental air route in the world, to and from Heathrow. British Airways and Virgin were among the airlines that cancelled all flights to JFK.
Many flights from New York's second airport, Newark, were also cancelled, grounding travellers heading for the UK's main regional airports. Together with axed flights from Washington, Philadelphia and Boston, by last night about 20,000 British passengers were in the wrong place – and at the back of the queue for scarce seats. One British family due to fly home on Virgin Atlantic yesterday were told that the first available flight was on 9 September.
In a statement on its website, Virgin Atlantic said: "We are focusing all our energy on a recovery plan to bring people back home."
Passengers on EU airlines are entitled to meals and accommodation until they can be flown home. Anyone travelling with a US airline from America was left to fend for themselves and hope that they can reclaim the costs through travel insurance.