Storm wrecks flight schedules, leaves many stranded in Charlotte

The storm is over Friday, but now comes the bigger challenge for stranded passengers at Charlotte: Trying to get a flight out.

Several hundred people stood in line Friday morning at Charlotte Douglas International Airport, trying to rebook flights and escape the mess created by the biggest Southeast winter storm in 10 years. The line remained nearly as long at mid-afternoon.

US Airways is urging customers not to come to the airport and try to rebook their flights. Most planes leaving Charlotte today are fully booked, said spokesman Davien Anderson.

“We’re asking that customers do not show up at the airport to rebook their flight,” said Anderson. “Customers whose travel plans have been impacted will not be able to rebook at the airport for flights today, as most flights are full.”

Hundreds of customers have been standing in lines that snaked through the terminal at Charlotte Douglas for the last two days, waiting to get to ticket agents and rebook their flights. Many complained that US Airways’ toll-free number was not responding.

“Please call US Airways reservations to rebook canceled flights,” said Anderson, in an email. “We understand that wait times are lengthy due to high call volume.”

Officials estimated more than 1,000 stranded passengers spent the night at Charlotte Douglas, and some aviation experts estimated it could be several days before flight schedules return to normal. Airport officials said extra staff was called in to distribute cots, blankets, bottled waters and supplies of baby items.

Anderson said that most Charlotte flights were still scheduled Friday morning. But he cautioned that many planes would be late.

“While we are operating at CLT today, we do expect significant delays throughout the day as we recover from the weather event,” said Anderson, in an email. “Many of our employees are having a difficult time reaching the airport for work due to current road conditions.”

US Airways, a subsidiary of American Airlines, had canceled about one sixth of its Friday flights nationwide as of 9 a.m.

The Associated Press reported Friday morning that the number of flight cancellations across the country in the last few days is the largest in 25 years. At Charlotte Douglas, Thursday was the highest number of canceled flights in one day in at least 10 years.

Lee Davis, a spokeswoman for the airport, said workers were able to reopen a second runway Friday morning and hope to reopen a third runway by noon.

“Deicing operations are under way, and aircraft are arriving and departing,” Davis said.

The winter storm responsible for creating problems in the Southeast moved up the East Coast on Thursday and dumped heavy snow on Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York and Boston. Throughout the day on Friday, the website Flightstats.com showed “excessive” delays at most of those airports. And the FAA reported arrivals and departures were halted temporarily Friday morning at New York’s LaGuardia Airport because of weather problems.

At Charlotte Douglas, 364 arrivals and departures were canceled by early Friday afternoon, according to FlightStats.com. That’s about 25 percent of the airport’s daily total.

Yet there was no rhyme or reason for the cancellations, possibly because crews and planes were having a difficult time getting to the right airports. Some of the Charlotte cancellations included flights to the Caribbean and Florida.

The storm’s lengthy transit up the East Coast – its effects started Tuesday in Charlotte, and lasted until early Friday as it moved through the Northeast – meant some passengers had their flights canceled for several days in a row.

One woman standing in the long airport line Friday morning said she and other family members had driven to Charlotte on Wednesday morning from Greenville, S.C. They had planned to fly to Portland, Ore., for a Junior Olympics fencing tournament. They never left Charlotte.

Observers said lines at the airport Friday morning appeared to be even longer than on the day before Thanksgiving, typically the busiest air travel day of the year.

The Observer’s Davie Hinshaw contributed.

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