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"Airport problems send ripple"


 
Friday, December 22, 2006

Airport problems send ripple 
2nd day of bad weather in London, Denver strands fliers worldwide
By Brad Foss
The Associated Press


Two of the world's busiest airports, in London and Denver, were socked with
bad weather for a second-straight day on Thursday, propelling a ripple that
spread to airports around the world and stranded thousands of holiday
travelers.

As flight after flight was canceled, the situation grew into a logistical
horror for fliers, whose vacations were disrupted, if not spoiled, and for
airlines, who may lose much-needed revenue.

Industry officials said it could take two days to untangle the knot, which
is tightest in Denver, where more than two feet of snow kept the airport
closed for a second day. Denver is home to one of United Airlines' biggest
hubs. In London, fog is forecast to continue into the weekend.

Jodie and Andy Hartfield of Colorado Springs, Colo., spent a sleepless night
at the Denver airport with their three young children. They scrounged a cot
and some blankets from a family that left the airport to stay in a hotel. 

"We can't go home, the highway's closed," said Jodie Hartfield, who hopes to
get a flight to Seattle before Christmas. "We can't get to the car, it's 10
miles away. And the hotels are not cheap."

Inclement weather can make air travel a nightmare under the best of
circumstances, let along during the holiday. But what makes this week's
snags so daunting, travel experts said, is that airlines have tightened
their belts in recent years to regain financial stability. That means there
are fewer employees to help stranded passengers than in years past, and
fewer empty seats to offer stranded fliers determined to reach their
destinations.

Gummed-up service in London - where more than 700 flights have been canceled
since Tuesday - reverberated across Europe, slowing travel to and from
Helsinki, Vienna, Brussels, Paris and Amsterdam. The majority of the
cancellations at Heathrow, Europe's busiest airport, affected British
Airways travelers.

"It's bedlam," said Nicholas Velez, 23, from Washington, D.C. "The whole
terminal is so packed you can barely walk."

With Heathrow hotels so full that even service rooms were occupied, Velez
was one of the 500 people who slept in the chilly terminals overnight while
waiting to rebook a flight home. 

Zubair Qamar, 33, also heading to Washington, was luckier. He was given a
hotel voucher after waiting for six hours Wednesday. "I spent some of my
vacation in a five-star hotel, which was not so bad," he said. 

Hotels and resorts aren't likely to refund any money to no shows, but
airlines are a bit more flexible toward customers whose flights were
cancelled.

Southwest Airlines Co. said customers stranded because of a flight
cancellation can opt for a full refund, or use their ticket to travel within
two weeks of their original departure date. United said passengers have
until midnight of the day their flight was canceled to make a new
reservation at the same price.

Passenger demand is typically light on Christmas Day, but it isn't likely to
be this year, said travel expert Terry Trippler.

If past experience is any guide, Trippler said, "this won't really be
totally untangled until well past Christmas."

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