- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 23, 2006

DENVER (AP) — Officials opened two more runways yesterday at Denver’s airport after a two-day blizzard as airlines struggled to move thousands of holiday travelers stranded across the country.

Some people had given up hope of spending Christmas with loved ones as airlines were running at near-full capacity with little room for the people whose earlier flights were canceled.

The busiest carrier at Denver International Airport, United Airlines, planned to operate a full schedule of 900 departures and arrivals yesterday for the first time since the storm blew in Wednesday, spokeswoman Robin Urbanski said. Flights were running “close to on schedule,” she said.

The airport, the nation’s fifth-busiest, expected to have all six runways cleared by today, but there was no telling when the backlog of passengers would be cleared out.

“We don’t know,” Miss Urbanski said.

The jam in Denver backed up flights around the country heading into one of the busiest travel times of the year, with 9 million Americans planning to take to the air during the nine-day Christmas-to-New Year’s period. An estimated 64.9 million people will travel more than 50 miles from home by air, rail and road during the holidays, according to AAA.

In addition, flights were delayed by low visibility Friday in Atlanta and by wind in Philadelphia.

Denver International closed to all flights Wednesday when the blizzard buried the city in 2 feet of snow, closing schools, offices and stores at the height of the Christmas rush. More than 3,000 incoming flights alone were canceled or diverted during the 45-hour shutdown.

An estimated 4,700 travelers camped out at the airport that 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.

Airport officials did not have an estimate of how many people were still there Friday night.

As planes began taking off again at noon Friday, 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.

Airline officials tried to explain to unhappy travelers at the airport that they cannot simply bring in extra planes to clear the backlog, and those stranded learned it could be Christmas — or later — before they can catch a plane at Denver International.

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

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide