Travel in the Northeast creaked back into motion Wednesday as Superstorm Sandy receded, allowing workers to check runways and railroad tracks for water damage.
It was a grinding, patchy recovery that made it clear that stranded travelers will struggle to get around for days to come.
All of New York's three major airports were expected to be open Thursday morning but under reduced schedules. Most Northeast rail service remained suspended. In New York City, some buses were running and subway service was expected to restart Thursday.
The busy Northeast travel corridor ground to a halt when Sandy slammed into New Jersey on Monday evening. Train tunnels flooded, power went out, and forecasts of high winds forced airlines to cancel thousands of flights.
FlightStats said the storm has caused more than 19,000 cancellations, including 2,820 cancellations Wednesday. The loss of East Coast flights stranded tourists in New York and kept travelers stuck in Hong Kong. The lack of trains left suburban commuters without a way into work.
On Wednesday, the first trickle of air travelers reached New York since the storm hit. John F. Kennedy International and Liberty Airport in Newark, N.J., both opened, but flights were limited. The airlines that did operate were mostly positioning planes for a fuller schedule on Thursday.
Peter and Sheryl Knight were scheduled to fly home to Washington from Hong Kong on Wednesday, but their Cathay Pacific Airways flight via JFK was canceled. The airline put them on a flight for Chicago on Thursday, where they would board another flight home.
"Hong Kong's not a bad place to be for another day," Peter Knight said.
Like the rest of the region, the airlines and airports are trying to overcome power outages, lack of mass transit, and the chance that salt water might have damaged equipment down to the runway lights.
"Considering how bad it is, I think the airlines have done a pretty good job," said George Hobica, who founded the airfarewatchdog.com travel website. He's booked on a flight from JFK to Los Angeles on Thursday afternoon and expects the flight to take off, although he expects lingering delays as airports continue to recover from the storm.
"It's not over until it's over," he said, "but the worst is over."
New York's third major airport, LaGuardia, will open at 7 a.m. EDT on Thursday, the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey said on its website. LaGuardia has just two runways that jut out into bays and are only a few feet above sea level. They were inundated by Sandy's huge surge.