Weekend travel will continue to be a mess after days of snow-related delays

Washington's airports have reopened, and while the main roads from downtown are clear enough to drive to Reagan National Airport, its above-ground Metro station is still closed. Many passengers continue to stand-by for flights that were previously canceled because of the storm.
By Susan Kinzie and Katherine Shaver
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 12, 2010

Maureen Russo's phone rang with an offer, and a warning, from the airport shuttle: now or never.

The shuttle could take her to Dulles International Airport the night before her Wednesday flight to Bogota, Colombia, before the snow really started. Or else she could forget it.

Then the airline called: The flight was canceled. But if she could get to the airport, airline officials told her, they might be able to put her on another plane. After a frantic $100 cab ride from Dupont Circle, then a night at an airport hotel, the 26-year-old was waiting in a ticketing line Thursday. "It's been the worst travel experience in my life," she said.

It's been bad all week for people trying to get into, or out of, the region: canceled flights, long lines, icy streets, cars smothered in snow in airport parking lots. And travel this weekend will continue to be a mess.

A long holiday weekend, with Valentine's Day smack in the middle, means roads and airports will be jammed with people leaving for romantic getaways or just trying to get out of the snow for a few days.

And they will be traveling with all the people whose flights have been delayed this week, who have been eating stale airport bagels, staring drearily at monitors and barking airline confirmation codes into computer-assisted phone lines for days.

The snow has been "almost cataclysmic in terms of the impacts it's having on travel," said John B. Townsend II, a spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic.

It's the worst airport situation since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, when flights nationwide were canceled for several days and Reagan National Airport was shut down for several weeks, said David Stempler, president of the Air Travelers Association.

Southwest had more weather-related flight cancellations since Feb. 5, said spokesman Paul Flaningan, than in any other week in the airline's 38-year-old history.

All three area airports reopened Thursday after this week's storm, resuming flights gradually throughout the day. At Dulles Airport, two of the four runways were operating by 6 a.m., said Courtney Mickalonis, a spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority. Reagan National Airport reopened later because there is less room in which to put the plowed snow, with 60 dump trucks hauling it away. Baltimore-Washington International Marshall Airport resumed flights at 7 a.m., according to spokeswoman Lynda Warehime.

Southwest, BWI's busiest airline, canceled most flights there earlier Thursday but began landing at the airport again about 5 p.m. and expected to resume its 160 daily flights from BWI on Friday.

That doesn't mean things are back to normal.

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