Sophia Smith thought she had beaten the “bomb cyclone.” But minutes after boarding a New York-bound plane on Thursday morning, a text message from the airline arrived.
Her flight was canceled.
Ms. Smith’s trip home from Orlando, Fla., was among more than 4,000 flights scrapped on Thursday as a winter storm pounded the Northeast and sent problems rippling out to airports across the country. FlightAware, a flight data website, said 2,000 more flights had been delayed and that nearly 900 others set for Friday were already canceled.
Some airlines offered refunds and notified travelers of the cancellations hours in advance, drawing praise from stranded passengers. But many other travelers found themselves marooned in airports far from home and frustrated by limited options for rebooking.
In Ms. Smith’s case, she said her airline offered two unpalatable choices: take an eight-hour trip on Friday with a layover in out-of-the-way Dallas, or wait and fly direct to New York on Sunday. She chose the latter.
“I was happy to kind of rearrange my travel plans in light of the weather,” said Ms. Smith, a Brooklyn resident who had hoped to return to her theater work on Thursday. But she said the airline’s options were “ridiculous.”
Matthew Hashiguchi, a college professor in Georgia, said his flight from Cleveland to Washington on Thursday morning arrived on time. But once he got there, he discovered that his connecting flight home to Savannah, Ga., had been canceled and that it could take days to get back.
Savannah, which had an unusual blast of icy weather this week, closed its airport runways until Thursday afternoon. Mr. Hashiguchi said he eventually decided to fly to Atlanta and drive the rest of the way home.
Mr. Hashiguchi, a former resident of Ohio and Massachusetts, where a little snow is no big deal, said by phone from Dulles International Airport that “most of my frustration right now is with the South.”
“Georgia gets two inches of snow and they shut down the whole region,” he said. “They’re not prepared.”
Savannah wasn’t the only southern airport struggle to cope with rare weather conditions. In Orlando, airport officials said their “de-icing truck had to be dusted off and put to work” on Thursday.
In New York, where both John F. Kennedy and LaGuardia airports temporarily suspended flights Thursday morning “due to strong winds and whiteout conditions,” Pawandeep Singh found out that his evening flight to Texas was among the casualties.
Mr. Singh, a medical student from Queens who had planned to visit friends and tour the Alamo, said the trip was “my last available vacation” before he would have to buckle down and focus on exams. He was thinking about accepting a refund and trying to find a Friday flight on another airline.
“Given the circumstances, I think they’re doing fine,” Mr. Singh said of his airline. “It’s not a controllable event right now. At least they got the information out before I had to leave the house.”
Taishi Thompson had the opposite problem. He was trying to get back to New York after a vacation in Cancún, Mexico, where it was 73 degrees and partly cloudy on Thursday afternoon.
Mr. Thompson said he had been booked on a canceled flight to New York, and that he was just trying to get on a plane heading somewhere in the eastern United States: Philadelphia, Miami, anywhere would suffice.
Still, he conceded that Cancun was “not the worst place to get stuck.”
Mat Piscatella, a businessman from San Diego, also tried to put a positive spin on the inconvenience. He had planned to fly home on Thursday after a work trip on Long Island. But his flight was canceled, so he witnessed a meteorological treat unheard-of in Southern California.
“To be honest, I’ve never been in weather like this in my life,” said Mr. Piscatella, 44, who was planning an evening snowball fight with colleagues. “This is the first time I’ve seen snow come down sideways.”
But in sunny Miami, a Bronx resident, Jamie Adorno, said she was content to stay on vacation a bit longer. After learning the airline scrapped her flight, she and her family rented a car, drove to South Beach and enjoyed Cuban cuisine for lunch.
“It looks bad” in New York, Ms. Adorno said. “My friend sent me a video. My mom told me it’s freezing. We’re not too sad that we’re here.”