Holiday travel remains a mess |

Holiday travel remains a mess

Damian Dovarganes/AP PhotoUCLA law student Todd Garber, 23, sits down at Los Angeles International airport United Airlines terminal, after failing to find an alternative connecting flight from Denver to St. Louis, Missouri to visit his parents, Friday.

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 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 Chistina 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. More than 3,000 incoming flights alone were canceled or diverted from Denver during the 45-hour shutdown.

There also were delays Friday 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.

The crowds of stranded passengers merged with thousands of arriving people who had confirmed reservations, bringing near-gridlock at the ticket counters. The American Airlines line snaked through 5th-floor terminal, skipped down an escalator to the 4th floor, and out the door onto a sidewalk.

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 Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, more than 100 flights were canceled by midmorning Friday. Passengers were told to expect arrival and departure delays averaging 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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