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Stuck passengers endure misery at airports

Passengers stranded at LaGuardia airport in New York on Monday.
Passengers stranded at LaGuardia airport in New York on Monday.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Monster weekend winter storm blankets a swath of the East Coast
  • Atlanta passenger put on two canceled flights, must hopscotch home
  • Stranded in NY: "You sort of crumble once, get it over with and then put on a smile"
  • At least four deaths have been linked to the winter storm, officials say

(CNN) -- Monday, the official first day of winter, airlines were scrambling to accommodate passengers affected by the cancellation of hundreds of flights after a monster weekend winter storm blanketed a swath of the East Coast.

Charlene Fisk, a filmmaker from Atlanta, Georgia, tried her best not to lose it at Hartsfield International Airport on Monday at 4:30 a.m. when she found out she wouldn't be getting home to upstate New York anytime soon. Her US Airways connecting flight had been canceled, so she was placed on another flight to Philadelphia, which was then canceled.

She's going to have to fly to Chicago on Monday evening, hopefully stay the night with friends and then hop on a standby flight to Syracuse. Her family will have to drive about an hour from their home to pick her up.

"Passengers are talking about renting cars together and just driving home," Fisk said.

US Airways is picking up the tab to fly Fisk to Chicago. And while some airlines are offering refunds, a spokesman for Delta Air Lines said the company is providing weather waivers that allow passengers to reschedule without a penalty if they were scheduled to travel before Christmas.

Another strong winter system will be developing by Tuesday in the Rockies. The system will take a track through the central Plains, Midwest, and into the western Great Lakes. Winter storm and blizzard watches are already in effect for the Central Plains for Tuesday night through Thursday. Severe weather also will be possible from Dallas and Houston, Texas, to Little Rock, Arkansas, and New Orleans, Louisiana.

On Monday, CNN correspondent Susan Candiotti was taking her first day of vacation when she began a chaotic journey from Newark, New Jersey. Already with boarding pass in hand, she spent nearly two hours in three different lines because agents were unsure which line passengers should be in, she said.

Another agent eventually told Candiotti and others to go directly to TSA security where they got in another line. A different Continental agent then lead them to an upper floor to check their bags. Then, they were sent back to security and she made it to her 8:45 a.m. flight gate with 10 minutes to spare only to learn that the flight had been postponed until around 11 a.m., when it eventually took off for Columbus, Ohio. Her final destination is northern Kentucky which she'll eventually reach once her sister picks her up in Ohio and drives her home.

"My experience today was nothing compared to many people we interviewed (on Sunday) who stood in line for three or four hours," Candiotti said. "One student trying to get to Denver had to spend two sleepless nights at the airport. So, my delay pales by comparison."

Washington's Dulles and Reagan National airports saw snowfall of 18 inches and 16.4 inches respectively on Sunday, the highest one-day totals ever for December.

Alison Young posted on her Facebook page that she's glad her brother finally made it to Omaha, Nebraska. He arrived at 3 a.m. central time on Monday. He began his journey at 7 a.m. Sunday at Reagan National, had to scramble to find a flight out of Dulles, went through Denver and then made it home. "Can't wait to attempt my own trek home Tuesday," Young joked.

American Airlines said it would add extra flights, use bigger planes where possible and reflow passengers to other flights. Passengers who were affected can switch flights with no change fees through Thursday, said Charley Wilson, airline spokesman.

Continental Airlines said though flights are extremely full because of the Christmas season, staffers are working on a "case-by-case basis" to ensure passengers get home for the holidays. Passengers can also get a refund or change their flights for free at Continental's Web site or through the 800 number, said spokeswoman Mary Clark.

Video: Virginia roads moving despite snow
Video: Snowstorm hits D.C.
Video: New York digs out
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Areas from the Mid-Atlantic through the Northeast set snowfall records this weekend.

Record snow blanketed some areas Sunday, including 23 inches in Bethesda, Maryland, and 24 inches in Medford, New Jersey. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, received 23.2 inches -- its second-highest snowfall ever in a single event.

Two people were killed in weather-related crashes, the Virginia State Police said Sunday, and "there are two additional deaths that are likely related to the winter storm."

The storm, known as a nor'easter, blanketed the mid-Atlantic region and the heavily populated Interstate 95 corridor.

Meanwhile, western North Carolina residents were digging out from the powerful storm.

In Washington, Mayor Adrian M. Fenty said the storm is "perhaps the biggest we've seen in several years."

"We are going to throw everything we have at it to keep the District open for business on this busy pre-holiday weekend," Fenty said when he announced the snow emergency. But, he also urged residents to stay put in their homes.

"We urge everyone if you don't have to go anywhere, wait. We should have a lot of streets ready to go by rush hour Monday. And, hopefully, all of it done between Monday and Wednesday."

Nine people were taken to a hospital after a bus and a city snow plow collided, a D.C. fire official said. The injuries were not considered serious.