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Trying to reach Vail, trying to leave

NWS Maritza Newman PU 12-22-06
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VAIL ” Maritza Newman and her family were determined to get to Vail.

Their flight Thursday into Eagle County Regional Airport was canceled, and the best the airline could do was put them on another flight next week. They weren’t about to delay their Vail Christmas trip past Christmas.

“We’ve been planning this since September,” said Newman, a San Francisco resident. “We do this every year. This is our one moment of joy as a family.”

They called everywhere. They tried Web sites. No one could get them a flight.

“We decided to get really creative,” she said.

They found the nearest place they could fly. It turned out that was Salt Lake City.

So on Thursday morning, Newman, her husband and her daughter arrived at the Oakland, Calif., airport at 5 a.m. and flew to Salt Lake. They chartered a limo, at a cost of about $2,500, to drive the eight hours to the Vail Cascade Resort. They arrived in Vail Thursday night.

“I was so happy to be here,” she said. “It was worth it.”

In Susan Smith’s case, she couldn’t get out of Vail. The Brentwood, Tenn., resident and her family were in Vail for a pre-Christmas trip from last Sunday until Wednesday. At least that was the plan.

When the storm struck Denver on Wednesday, their flight was canceled. The earliest flight they could get out of Denver was on Christmas Eve.

“The first day, you get pretty upset,” she said. “Then you decide you’re in a beautiful setting and you might as well have a good time while you’re here.”

While on vacation overtime, they’ve been simply skiing and eating, Smith said. But she said she’s worried about preparing for the holiday.

“I don’t have any food in the house,” she said.

She was hoping she could find a store that isn’t closed on Christmas Eve. And she’s still worried about not getting home by Christmas, she said.

“When you’re getting home late on Christmas Eve, that’s cutting it close,” she said.

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.

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 4,700 travelers camped out at the Denver 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.

Julie Tomlinson is a local who’s unexpectedly staying in Vail for Christmas. Tomlinson, a Vail resident, was supposed to fly to St. Louis on Wednesday to visit relatives for the holidays.

But she got an automated message on her phone Wednesday morning that said her flight was canceled.

After staying on hold with the airlines for an hour, they told her the best they could do was put her on a flight for Saturday. It didn’t make sense to do that because she was returning to Vail on Monday.

She’ll spend Christmas with her boyfriend here in Vail instead.

“I see it as an advantage because I get an extra couple of days on the hill,” she said.

After all, she said, Vail isn’t the worst place to spend the holiday.

“Oh, darn,” she said. “I’m stuck in Vail for Christmas.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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