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"Denver Airport Reopens; the Mess Lingers"


 
Friday, December 22, 2006

Denver Airport Reopens; the Mess Lingers
By CHASE SQUIRES
The Associated Press


DENVER -- Denver's snowed-in airport reopened Friday for the first time in
two days, but the backlog of flights around the country could take all
weekend to clear, and many of the nearly 5,000 holiday travelers stranded
here might not make it home for Christmas.

As planes began taking off again, passengers with long-standing reservations
filled most of the outbound flights. That was bad news for those waiting to
rebook flights canceled during the storm.

"Unfortunately, this comes down to basic math," said airport spokesman Chuck
Cannon. "You've got thousands of people standing in lines, and the airlines
do not have thousands of seats."

The departure of a Frontier Airlines flight for Atlanta a few minutes after
noon was greeted glumly by Christina Kuroiwa, a Fort Collins, Colo., woman
who had been trying to get to San Jose, Calif.

"Well, I guess that's good for them, but it really doesn't help me," said
Kuroiwa, who had actually gotten on a plane Wednesday, only to sit stuck in
the snow on the runway for 8 1/2 hours.

The jam in Denver backed up flights around the country heading into the one
of the busiest travel times of the year, with 9 million Americans planning
to take to the skies during the nine-day Christmas-to-New Year's period.

Army Spc. Nicholas Silva curled up on a bench Friday, put his head on his
arm and hunkered down Friday for a third night inside Chicago's O'Hare
Airport. The 20-year-old based at Fort Drum, N.Y., said he hoped to board a
plane home to Aurora, Colo., on Saturday evening.

"I've slept in worse areas, so this doesn't bug me all that much," said
Silva, who spent last Christmas stationed in Iraq and is traveling home for
the first time in two years. "I'll be home for Christmas. I can see my
family. Does it really matter after that?"

More than 3,000 incoming flights alone were canceled or diverted from Denver
during the 45-hour shutdown. There also were delays in Atlanta because of
low visibility, and in Philadelphia because of wind.

An estimated 64.9 million people will travel more than 50 miles from home by
air, rail and road during the holidays, according to the AAA.

Denver International, the nation's fifth-busiest airport, closed to all
flights Wednesday when a blizzard buried the city in 2 feet of snow, closing
schools, offices and stores at the very height of the Christmas rush and
stopping the mail, too.

An estimated 4,700 travelers camped out at the airport Wednesday night, and
close to 2,000 spent a second night on the hard floors and a few cots,
hoping to get a place at the front of long lines at ticket counters Friday
morning.

Christmas 2006 will provide travel nightmare stories for years to come.

Albuquerque, N.M., resident Alan Kuhn met another stranded passenger, Denise
Brien, in Denver, and they organized a group to rent a van to run back and
forth to downtown hotels. On Friday, they decided they were standing in
their last line.

"Yesterday, I couldn't get Frontier, I couldn't get on the Web site and I
couldn't get them on the phone," Kuhn said. "And that's when we said, 'If we
can't get a flight today, we're going to drive.' The roads are open, the sun
is out."

The delays at Denver had a ripple effect across the country.

At O'Hare, more than 100 flights were canceled Friday, and delays averaged
more than an hour.

At Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, twin brothers Leonardo
and Limcoln Filogonio, 20, of Brazil, were turned away from a Delta flight
to Denver on Thursday night and had little hope of getting back on schedule.

"We're going back every two hours to check, and they're telling us that our
flight is delayed over and over," Leonardo said.

In Denver, flights started from two of the airport's six runways, and two
more runways were expected to be cleared of snow by 6 p.m. United, the
biggest airline in Denver, said it expected to resume one-third of its
schedule Friday and the full schedule Saturday.

Airline officials tried to explain to unhappy travelers at the airport that
they cannot simply bring in extra planes to clear the backlog.

"When we get an airplane, we run it 10 hours a day every day," said Frontier
spokesman Joe Hodas. "It's not like we can decide Dayton's not important and
just pull some planes from there."

Todd Garber, a law student at UCLA, fumed at Los Angeles International
Airport after his flight to St. Louis was canceled because it had a stop in
Denver. "Next time I'm going to go through Phoenix," he grumbled.

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