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Stranded travelers hopscotch Europe in quest to get back to US

By Lylah M. Alphonse, Globe Staff, 9/16/2001

AMSTERDAM - As international airlines resumed flying to the United States and flight schedules inched toward normalcy yesterday, thousands of people stranded in Europe since Tuesday's terrorist strikes scrambled to return home.

Those who had decided to spend their extra time doing a little more sightseeing were racing to rail stations, trying to get back to their original point of departure for the United States.

Others crammed Internet cafes to e-mail home and check flights.

Kimberly Lewis and Jason Beck of Cincinnati went to Central Station in Amsterdam to book a train to London. They had been in Paris when the World Trade Center towers fell and were supposed to return to Cincinnati on Wednesday. But when they arrived at Charles de Gaulle Airport, ''We were told our flight was canceled, and here's the number to your embassy,'' Lewis said.

Beck, a real estate developer, and Lewis, a fifth-year senior who begins classes Tuesday at the University of Cincinnati, decided to take a train to London while they were waiting for flights to resume. They were re-booked onto a flight out of Paris on Friday but then could not make it back from London in time.

After doing several laundry loads, the couple headed to Amsterdam to try their luck. ''I spent 12 hours and $400 to do laundry in Paris,'' Beck said.

In Amsterdam, the hub for Dutch airline KLM, flights to the United States were still on hold Friday, and Beck and Lewis found themselves competing with thousands of other stranded travelers for a handful of hotel rooms.

''We spent the night in a room above an Argentinian steakhouse,'' Beck said. The room cost them $200.

At Schiphol Airport yesterday, the arrival and departure screens were mostly blank, with only 47 flights leaving the normally bustling hub that evening. None were to the United States.

Northwest and KLM were refusing to re-book passengers on alternative routes, much to the frustration of travelers who were hoping to fly into another city and make their way home.

The departure halls were eerily quiet. Arrival areas were crowded with people pressed against the glass walls, looking for loved ones.

The KLM check-in counters were nearly empty, with only five representatives scattered throughout the 70 or so workstations. The ticketing counter at one end of the hall was manned by three people instead of the usual 10 to 12. About 25 passengers waited patiently in lines to rebook their tickets.

Kader Fellage, who works for Honeywell in California, was in Amsterdam on business and was trying to get home to Los Angeles.

Ajay Kumar of New Delhi was waiting at the KLM counter at the airport to try to book a flight back to India. He was supposed to be on KLM Flight 643 to New York's Kennedy Airport last Tuesday, on a trip to visit his uncle in New York.

''I was watching TV when the news came on and I learned what happened,'' he said. Once he learned his uncle was safe, he decided to go back home instead of completing his trip.

Mark de Stefano of Los Angeles, a filing agent with the Securities and Exchange Commission, flew into Amsterdam on Friday en route to a meeting in Ukraine. His week began with a meeting in Baltimore on Tuesday morning, which was supposed to have been followed by another in Manhattan that afternoon.

He was watching TV in his hotel room when he saw footage of the New York attacks. ''I saw it and thought, `Man, they make some kookie movies.'''

Then he talked to a friend in Jersey City, who works in an office with a view of the twin towers, and realized that what he had seen wasn't made in Hollywood.

This story ran on page A17 of the Boston Globe on 9/16/2001.
© Copyright 2001 Globe Newspaper Company.