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Airlines try to rebound from worst travel day yet

Airlines and travelers have started the messy business of rebounding after a day of more than 7,400 flight cancellations, making it the worst day so far of a long, cold, sloggy winter.

The latest Nor'easter, blamed for 21 deaths, dumped up to 28 inches of snow in the East Coast, NBC News reported. On Friday morning, as many as 100 cars piled up on the Pennsylvania Turnpike as roads remained treacherous.

As of late Friday morning, more than 1,900 flights were canceled and 5,300 were delayed, according to FlightAware, a tracking service. (See the latest air travel status here.)

New Jersey's Newark Liberty International canceled more than 150 flights, 25 percent of its schedule. Charlotte/Douglas International, Philadelphia International, Reagan National and LaGuardia Airport canceled more than 10 percent of their departures by early Friday morning.

Storm-weary travelers sleep in the baggage claim area at Dulles International, Feb. 13, 2014.
Paul J. Richards | AFP | Getty Images
Storm-weary travelers sleep in the baggage claim area at Dulles International, Feb. 13, 2014.

"It's a lot better today," said Felix Maina, general manager at the Crowne Plaza JFK Airport hotel. "It's more slush rather than snow, but the snow is still piled up."

The hotel, which reopened Jan. 29 after a complete renovation, was already fully booked Friday as the travelers tried to get back on schedule, he said.

(Read more: Second storm torments East Coast commuters again)

Regional carrier ExpressJet had nixed more than 200 flights followed by US Airways with more than 190 and United with 130 cancellations each.

By Friday morning, 97,400 U.S. flights had been canceled this winter, with 76,400 since Jan. 1, according to masFlight, a data and software company specializing in airline and airport operations. About 15,950 flights have been canceled this week, nearly half on Thursday.

While masFlight estimates 5.6 million passengers have been impacted by flight cancellations, (and 42.8 million by flight delays,) economists have also been tallying the larger impacts. Cash registers will likely go quiet to the tune of $15 billion to $50 billion in lost revenues, economists said.

"This is certainly a catastrophic problem from the standpoint of an individual traveler, but the impact in the long term doesn't amount to much," Robert Crandall, former CEO and chairman of American Airlines, said Friday on "Squawk on the Street."

Most of the business will return to normal soon, he said. "It doesn't all come back but I would guess 90 percent of it comes back. Some of the leisure travel and some of the business trips will simply be cancelled. They just won't happen," Crandall said.

The winter, of course, is far from over. The National Weather Service predicts strong winds for the Northeast on Friday, followed by a less severe weekend storm that will reach from the Central Appalachians to New England.

(Read more: Major storm may be a Valentine's Day buzzkill)

George Hobica, founder of AirFareWatchDog.com, was among those dealing with the hassles of trying to rebook a flight that was canceled Thursday.

"The standard advice is to 'call your airline' and check online," he wrote in an email to CNBC. "But it's more effective to tweet your airline, if they're good responders like @AmericanAir and @DeltaAssist. Calling your airline you might be on hold for an hour or more. You can also have your airline call you back. Here's how to do it with United."

Trying to book a new flight from New York to Los Angeles was no easy task Thursday. "Everything was booked or canceled," he said. "But during the day on Thursday, seats did open up, a seat here, two seats there, and those flights ended up flying later in the day. By the time I found them and waited for an agent to book, they were gone.

"I think I would have had better luck grabbing one of those 'whack a mole' seats had I been at the airport, perhaps even if I had taken my original boarding pass to get through security and hanged out in the American Airline Admiral Club (where the agents are more helpful and the lines shorter). If I had been really desperate to get home yesterday, it might have been worth a try," Hobica said.

"The advice is always 'don't go to the airport' but I think if you're desperate, do it. In the end, only the persistent get results," he said.

Flights are mostly booked through the weekend, and Monday may be a traveler's best bet, he said.

Other forms of transportation were not without their own troubles this week. Amtrak on Friday planned to return more trains into service on its Northeast routes, according to its service alert.

Megabus said it aimed to return to normal service Friday with possible morning delays in North Carolina, Virginia, Washington, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont and Canada.

(Read more: Travel trend: 'Get me somewhere warm now')

—By CNBC's Amy Langfield. Follow her on Twitter at @AmyLangfield. CNBC's Jeff Morganteen contributed to this report. Follow him on Twitter at @jmorganteen

Follow Road Warrior on Twitter at @CNBCtravel.

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