Colo. blizzard snarls air travel nationwide

Thick fog in London cancels flights, causes havoc across Europe

December 22, 2006|By Nicholas Riccardi and Meredith Cohn | Nicholas Riccardi and Meredith Cohn,LOS ANGELES TIMES

DENVER -- The Mile High City began digging out from more than 2 feet of snow yesterday as the region struggled to recover from a blizzard that snarled travel nationwide.

Denver International Airport, the nation's fifth-busiest, remained closed even though the storm tailed off in the early afternoon. Howling winds had created towering snowdrifts on the runway, and airport officials said they did not expect to have those cleared and the airport reopened until noon today.

Meanwhile, international service was gummed up because of thick fog in London, where more than 700 flights have been canceled since Tuesday.

The effects were felt across Europe, slowing travel to and from Helsinki, Finland; Vienna, Austria; Brussels, Belgium; Paris and Amsterdam, Netherlands.

Industry officials said it could take two days to untangle the knot. In London, the weekend forecast is for more fog and more travel delays.

Officials at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport said yesterday that no major delays were reported there as a result of the Denver storm.

Nine direct flights to Denver from BWI were scheduled yesterday on United Airlines, Southwest Airlines and Frontier Airlines. Carriers are allowing passengers to rebook their flights at no cost if they call in the next few days. Because of the holidays, flying standby once the Denver airport reopens might be difficult, the airlines said.

With a major hub in Denver, the airport closing affected United Airlines' passengers most. United had canceled 2,000 flights by midday yesterday, including six flights scheduled yesterday from BWI.

As for those connecting through Denver, a United spokesman said the airline planned before the storm to reroute passengers through alternative cities. He said United was notifying passengers by phone of any changes in times.

The airline couldn't immediately say how many passengers were rerouted from Denver or how many other flights to other cities were affected because airplanes and crews were not in the right place.

Southwest Airlines had two flights scheduled yesterday to Denver from BWI and said it was accommodating connecting passengers by flying over Denver directly to other destinations. Its nationwide system was largely unaffected, the carrier said.

A spokesman for BWI encouraged Denver passengers to check with their airlines before coming to the airport because the snow made it unclear when the Denver airport would reopen.

Denver is a growing destination for BWI, with Southwest adding flights there this summer, but is not among the airport's top 10 cities. There were more flights in the past year to Boston; Atlanta; Orlando, Fla.; Providence, R.I.; Chicago and other cities.

Thousands of passengers who spent the night on the floors of the Denver airport had a chance to escape yesterday afternoon, as buses began to take them to hotels in downtown Denver, 25 miles away. But airport officials warned that it could be a long time before travelers got home.

"The airlines will be operating with a reduced schedule," said Chuck Cannon, an airport spokesman.

By late yesterday afternoon, many of the state's most-traveled highways and Denver's main roads had been cleared.

Nicholas Riccardi writes for the Los Angeles Times. Meredith Cohn writes for The Sun.

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