Denver Airport Reopens; the Mess Lingers

The Associated Press
Friday, December 22, 2006; 11:23 PM

DENVER -- 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 Christina 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.

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 evening.

"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 that?"

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 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. Three men died in northern Colorado's Weld County of apparent heart attacks while shoveling snow, Chief Deputy Coroner Tom Shimp told the Greeley Tribune.

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.

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