Denise Nieman has ridden out many hurricanes in her home state of Florida over the years. But Superstorm Sandy in New York was like nothing she had ever experienced.
The Palm Beach County Attorney has been stranded in Manhattan since her Monday flight back to Florida was canceled.
To make matters worse, she also had to flee from her hotel. When she returned from a seminar to the New York Marriott Downtown near the World Trade Center site on Sunday night, she learned it was to be evacuated and padlocked in advance of the hurricane. She scrambled to pack for her move to a Midtown Marriott.
"I left my robe and pajamas on the back of the bathroom door and my underwear in the drawer," she says.
All across New York, thousands of business travelers had similar tales of woe. They kept their work commitments in the nation's most important business travel hub only to find themselves stuck in hotel rooms waiting for airlines to get them on flights once the skies clear up.
Flights are slowly resuming along the East Coast -- but not in the New York region, which bore the brunt of Sandy's wrath. All three airports remained shut to traffic on Tuesday. For those stuck there, getting around the city was no small feat. The city's subway system remained closed, with no indication from the Metropolitan Transit Authority as to when it would re-open. Buses began running again, but only on a limited basis.
For the most part, life -- and work -- in New York came to a standstill. And that, the Global Business Travel Association estimates, could end up costing the city millions of dollars in business travel spending.
Because it is the biggest travel destination in the country, the association estimated last year that a Category 3 hurricane could cost New York about $157 million a day in business travel spending, the highest of any of the 11 states analyzed. New York would also stand to lose about 133,000 business trips a day, vs. 9,400 in a state such as Delaware.
But Meghan Henning, a spokeswoman for the association, says the extended shutdown of all New York-area airports and the crippled regional mass transit system could cause further economic losses.
"New York is a critical economic center and global travel hub, and we are extremely concerned about the ramifications of the city being essentially shut down for business travel," Henning says. "While trips and meetings can be rescheduled, there is obviously no clear timetable for this to happen right now."
Nationwide, more than 18,100 flights were canceled because of Sandy, according to flight-tracking website FlightAware.
New York has the busiest airspace in the nation, so the shutdown of its three main airports -- JFK, LaGuardia and Newark Liberty -- meant that flights from around the world were affected. Three dozen airports across the Northeast had to cancel 90% of their flights on Monday.
Ron Marsico, a spokesman for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, said Tuesday afternoon that JFK could re-open today for limited service only. He did not have a prognosis for the other two airports.
Amtrak suspended service on the Northeast Corridor for a second day. Major bus lines also kept their vehicles off the roads. But authorities said service would resume to varying degrees today.
Some travelers were so desperate to get moving that they were renting cars to get around the Northeast.
Hertz spokesman Richard Broome says demand for one-way trips has been "way off the charts" since airlines began canceling flights.
Stranded fill hotels
As airport authorities scrambled to clear runways, hotels took in as many stranded travelers as they could.
Managers at several hotels in parts of New York that did not lose power said they were either sold out or expecting to sell out. Those included the Four Seasons New York, Sheraton New York, the Westin Times Square and the Benjamin New York.
The posh New York Palace hotel filled 85% of its rooms on Tuesday -- more than the previous two days, general manager David Chase says.
The hotel had to quickly make adjustments to deal with the influx of guests. "Lots of people are eating in, so we've added buffet meals in our ballrooms for breakfast, lunch and dinner," he says. The hotel also provided cards, board games and complimentary Internet access.
Andy Labetti, general manager of the Benjamin, a 209-room property in Midtown, says his phone was "blowing up" with requests for rooms Tuesday from a new breed of customers: Manhattan commuters.
"What they want to do is get to work tomorrow," he says. "With the uncertainty of the trains, bridges and tunnels, they figure they'll sit in five hours of traffic (today)."
Todd Krim was doing his own sitting around at the Four Points by Sheraton in Chelsea, where he was holed up after his Tuesday night flight to Los Angeles was canceled. He had arrived in New York on Saturday for business meetings related to his work in the health industry.
Power had gone out at the hotel, but Krim was still able to work because he had wisely charged his laptop and mobile phone.
The hotel had flashlights ready for everyone and was offering plenty of free food and beverages. "I have to say there are worse places to be stranded," he says.
Delta Air Lines rebooked Krim on a Thursday night flight. He was hopeful that he could make it out. Until then, he says, he'll hang out with other business travelers he's befriended at the hotel.
"It's a little weird," he says. "But I have to say hanging out in the bar with everyone in the hotel, there's this camaraderie for riding out Sandy together."
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