Holiday travel mess continues despite Denver airport's reopening

By  | 

DENVER (AP) - 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

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,

"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 8½ 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

"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

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

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

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

"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.
Associated Press writers Kim Nguyen in Denver, Brad Foss in
Washington, Jonathan Landrum in Atlanta, Stephen Majors in Orlando,
Fla., Greg Risling in Los Angeles and Laurel Jorgensen in Chicago
contributed to this report.

(Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

AP-NY-12-22-06 1929EST