Southern Winter Storm Forces Major Flight Disruptions

By Del Quentin Wilber
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 20, 2008

Hundreds of airline flights were canceled yesterday and thousands of passengers endured lengthy delays after a winter storm showered rain, sleet and rain over major hub airports in the Southeast.

More than 800 flights were canceled to and from Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport -- about a quarter of the airport's total daily operations, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

Near-freezing temperatures and a wintry mix of precipitation also caused lengthy delays and cancellations at Charlotte's airport, a major hub for US Airways.

The fallout led to about 70 flight cancellations at the Washington region's three major airports. Even so, on-time arrivals overall averaged at least 74 percent through 6 p.m., according to FlightStats, an independent tracking service.

Atlanta's airport is a major hub for both Delta Air Lines and AirTran Airways, and yesterday's snarls were toughest on Delta passengers.

FAA officials described backups in Atlanta at Delta's gates, resulting from planes that could not get out and from others filled with passengers that had to wait in ramp areas until gates opened up. The gridlock forced the FAA to halt all inbound Delta flights to Atlanta until the situation cleared, said agency spokeswoman Kathleen Bergen.

Less than an inch of snow fell across much of Atlanta, but temperatures that hung around freezing all day caused other snarls at the airport: Aircraft were waiting 90 minutes to two hours to be de-iced before they could safely take off, Bergen said.

Delta representatives said they canceled about 30 arrivals and departures at Washington's three airports, and 280 flights at Atlanta. The carrier did not disclose how many flights its regional carriers were forced to nix from their schedules. Atlantic Southeast Airlines and Comair, regional carriers for Delta, canceled more than 300 departures nationwide, according to FlightStats.

AirTran scrubbed 78 flights across the country because of weather in Atlanta, a spokesman for the carrier said. The carrier's Web site reported at least six arrival and departure cancellations at Washington-area airports.

Airlines urged passengers to call their hot lines or check their Web sites for the status of flights before heading to the airport today.

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