Hundreds of travelers are stuck playing an overnight waiting game at BWI BLIZZARD '93

March 14, 1993|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,Staff Writer

Making people happy yesterday at Baltimore-Washington International Airport didn't take much -- once they realized that wherever they were going would just have to wait.

"I made it here," proclaimed Michael Lochte, standing in front of the Air Jamaica terminal while proudly describing his harrowing 30-minute drive from the Hampden section of Baltimore.

He arrived only to discover that the airport had been closed for the rest of the day.

"They told me I should go home and keep calling the airline," said Mr. Lochte, on his way for a week's vacation in Montego Bay. "But now thatI'm here, I'm not sure I can make it back."

Mr. Lochte was one of thousands of people on the East Coast whose trips were scuttled by yesterday's powerful winter storm.

Hotels and motels around Baltimore-Washington International Airport filled up fast, buses and limousines stopped running, and taxis were rare.

Airport officials estimated that a few hundred people spent the night at the airport, camped out on chairs, in terminals or in lounges opened to accommodate the stranded.

Bars quickly filled, especially with the many college students who were headed someplace warm for spring break. About 60 students from the University of Virginia were forced to delay their Jamaican vacation until tomorrow.

"We're all going to watch the ACC basketball tournament when it comes on," said Jeff Carestio, a 22-year-old senior from Reston, Va.

Late in the morning, the airport was packed, with long lines at virtually every ticket counter and an equal number of people jamming the baggage claim section. They were picking up their luggage that never had made it to a runway.

Bill Orr of Ellicott City, his wife and 16-year-old son were going on a ski trip to Colorado. They boarded their United Airlines flight, only to be forced off an hour later.

"I'm surprised they even tried," Mr. Orr said. "We called and they said the flight was on time. We get here, get on the plane and they cancel the whole thing."

Mr. Orr said the family planned to try again today.

L The morning crush of canceled flights didn't upset everyone.

Brian Meleady, manager of the Host Marriott food service, said his business would stay open throughout the storm.

"It's been busy," he said, in what may be an understatement as the line in front of the eatery clogged a pathway. "I don't think anyone ate breakfast before they came here today."

One of the many stranded passengers was Bill Murphy of Marietta, Ohio, who was flying from BWI to Miami and eventually Trinidad, where he will lead a safari. He drove to Maryland from Ohio on Friday, spent the night at the airport and was preparing FTC for yet another overnighter in the terminal.

"These things happen," Mr. Murphy said, clutching a suitcase in one hand and a telescope the other. "I know I'll see my group eventually."

Those who lined up at the hotel reservations desks found mostly bad news. By early afternoon, only expensive rooms were available. By midafternoon, airport officials said all hotels that serve the airport were booked.

"We've tried all of them," said Amelia Shepherd, a student at a boarding school in Northfield, Mass., who was on her way to the Virgin Islands. "All the cheap rooms are gone. We'll just have to spend $60 in the airport."

Area hotel managers said they called in their staffs Friday night and had them stay over so they would not be caught short-handed. The big problem was the hundreds of people who had reservations for Friday and then needed an extra night because their flights were canceled.

Perhaps the most frustrating sign at the airport was in front of the USAir ticket counter, where stranded passengers had to wait to exchange their tickets and wonder how they would get home in the snow.

The ad, a photo of two people in a clear, blue pool, touted such destinations as the Virgin Islands and California, proudly stating: "USAir is predicting a winter full of warm fronts."

Not this weekend, here.

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