Hundreds of people who bought $12 tickets on Eastern Airline's Northeast shuttle headed home Monday morning, one day late, after getting stranded in three cities when there were no bargain-basement seats for them on planes.

"Nightmare of nightmares," was how Catherine Holtz, 24, described her night sleeping on the carpet at New York's LaGuardia Airport before she returned home to Boston Monday. "I'm not so sure if it was worth it. It was a good idea in theory."Eastern's three-day offer of rock-bottom fares on the Washington-New York-Boston shuttle attracted 8,000 passengers Friday, 11,000 Saturday and 12,500 Sunday, said John Siefert, vice president for the shuttle.

Although fares went up to $49 Monday, Eastern said it would honor through Friday the $12 tickets sold over the weekend. After Friday, prices will return to $69 on weekends, $99 on weekdays and Sunday evening.

About 250 passengers were stuck at LaGuardia late Sunday, 200 failed to get on flights from Boston's Logan Airport and at least 100 were turned away at Washington's National Airport. Many spent the night at the airports and took the first shuttle flights out Monday morning.

"The first two went out full, so I'm hoping we got most of them," said Rosa R. Williams, shuttle manager at National Airport. On Sunday night, Eastern employees had given stranded shuttle passengers peanuts and decks of cards.

On Sunday, the Bush administration reiterated its determination to stay out of the 10-day-old strike by Eastern's 8,500-member machinists union.

"We are not in the business of running Eastern Airlines or negotiating the contract for labor," Transportation Secretary Samuel Skinner said on CBS' "Face The Nation."

Eastern trumpeted the reopening of flights to seven Latin American cities Sunday as a new start for the troubled airline, which filed for bankruptcy protection last week after most of its 3,600 pilots honored picket lines.

The carrier launched 75 flights Sunday and hopes to boost that number to 140 a day by the end of the week, compared with a pre-strike schedule of 1,040 a day, spokesman Robin Matell said.