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"Denver Airport Operating Near Capacity"


 
Sunday, December 24, 2006

Stranded travelers finally leave Denver
BY DAN ELLIOTT
The Associated Press


DENVER - Hundreds of flights left Denver's beleaguered airport on Christmas
Eve with many passengers who had been stranded when a two-day blizzard shut
down the runways last week.

The airport's two biggest airlines, United and Frontier, said they finally
flew full schedules of a combined 1,200 flights Saturday, plus 12 extra by
United. They expected a similar schedule Sunday as travelers around the
country whose itineraries were wrecked by the storm's ripple effect raced to
get home.

"If we filled up every single seat, we probably got out 30,000 passengers
(Saturday)," Frontier spokesman Joe Hodas said.

Last Christmas Eve, an estimated 129,000 passengers passed through the
airport, the nation's fifth-busiest annually, but officials say patterns
change from year to year.

Airline officials said they had no way of knowing when the backlog of
passengers might be cleared because they don't know what decisions the
travelers made.

"Did they cancel? Did they find another form of transportation to get to
their destination? Did they book at another time?" Hodas said.

United was running nearly on schedule Sunday despite adding the 12 flights
to its regular 900 and holding some planes to make sure every seat was
filled, spokeswoman Robin Urbanski said.

She said many standby passengers were boarding the planes but did not know
how many.

Leigh Bingham of Denver was waiting to board a flight to Albuquerque, N.M.,
on Sunday to spend Christmas with her parents and siblings. She said she
missed a flight Friday after three hours in the airport's security
checkpoint line.

"That was the longest line I've ever seen, including for roller coasters,"
she said.

On Sunday, the snaking line was gone and she made it through the checkpoint
with plenty of time to spare.

"I'm very, very, very happy," she said.

Sharon Lewis Koho, 60, of Nampa, Idaho, also expected to leave Sunday after
her flight to Boise was canceled Wednesday. On Saturday, she made herself at
home on a cot with a blanket and a stack of books.

"Welcome to my living room," she said. "I have a bathroom, a drinking
fountain," she said, motioning across the terminal. "I've just settled in."

Hodas said 75 to 80 workers from Frontier's Denver headquarters went to the
airport Saturday to help any way they could. Even chief executive Jeff
Potter helped check in passengers at curbside, Hodas said.

Crews moved about 4.4 million cubic yards of snow from runways, taxiways,
ramps, deicing areas and roadways, airport spokesman Steve Snyder said.

More than 3,000 incoming flights alone were canceled or diverted while
Denver International was shut down for 45 hours after the storm hit
Wednesday.

Some passengers left for hotels or gave up and went home, but others stuck
it out at the airport. An estimated 4,700 camped out there at the peak of
the closure.

Runways started reopening at midday Friday, and the last of the six runways
reopened Saturday, giving the airport more capacity than airlines needed,
Snyder said.

The troubles at Denver backed up flights around the country heading into one
of the busiest travel times of the year. About 9 million Americans planned
to take to the air during the nine-day Christmas-to-New Year's period,
according to AAA.

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