Bad Weather Delays Christmas Travelers in West

By: AP
By: AP
Colleen Stone and her family left their Illinois home Saturday hoping to fly to Seattle and spend Christmas with her parents.

Vanessa Barder, 7, from Redmond, Wash., occupies her time while waiting for a delayed flight on Sunday, Dec. 21, 2008 at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in SeaTac, Wash. Two runways are operational at SeaTac Airport, but airlines are canceling many flights. Airport spokesman Perry Cooper says hundreds of people are stranded waiting for their next flight. (AP Photo/The News Tribune, Peter Haley)

LOS ANGELES – Colleen Stone and her family left their Illinois home Saturday hoping to fly to Seattle and spend Christmas with her parents.

But two days, two canceled flights, a car ride and $600 later, they weren't even close. They were at Los Angeles International Airport, desperately trying to get out by plane, bus, train or rental car.

The Stones were among frustrated travelers across the West stuck Monday at airports, at bus stations and along roadways because of the weekend's stormy winter weather.

"I work for the Red Cross back home and we're trained to be prepared for when disasters strike," said Stone, 51. "This is a disaster and the airlines are not prepared for it."

There were long, snaking lines at customer service counters, and some travelers said they spent three hours waiting to rebook flights to the snowy Pacific Northwest.

The Greyhound terminals in Portland, Ore., and Seattle remained shut down due to the weather Monday — no buses in, no buses out.

More than 100 stranded passengers in Seattle were sent to homeless shelters or allowed to stay at the station. At the Old Town station in Portland, about 100 people had set up a second home.

A group of three sat against a cool brick wall not far from the ticket counter: Fast friends get made in hopeless situations.

Darlene Robb, 56, met Joshua Wharen, 20, on their bus to Portland. She was heading from Santa Rosa, Calif. to Grangeville, Idaho. He was going from Fort Bliss, Texas, to Spokane, Wash. Erica Wilcox, 22, spotted the duo in Portland, herself caught between Great Lakes, Ill., and Klamath Falls, Ore.

On Monday, they were playing cards, Robb was calling the two younger ones "my adopted kids" and Wilcox was accusing Wharen of cheating. "You're trying to look at my cards!"

If all went well, all three expected to be on buses sometime Tuesday, heading home to family, to friends.

Traffic inched along Interstate 5, the main north-south highway through western Oregon. State highways through the northern edge of the Coast Range were closed. Portland's buses, equipped with tire chains, were having trouble making it along the streets.

Alaska and Horizon airlines, the West Coast's principal carriers, resumed limited service Monday after thousands spent the night waiting. The two airlines hoped to resume near-normal schedules Tuesday at Sea-Tac and have the rest of their stranded passengers on their way by Wednesday.

Airport spokesman Perry Cooper said Monday that stranded passengers were given water and blankets and concession stores had adequate food for sale.

Some travelers said they had spent 12 hours waiting for a ticket agent, taking turns sleeping while others held their places in line.

Bonnie Fong, 21, said she struggled to get to the airport on time Monday, only to find her flight to San Francisco to visit her family had been canceled. The first available confirmed space, she said, was on a flight a while off: Sunday.

"I guess maybe I'll talk to my mom and see what she wants to do," Fong said. "Maybe I can take the train or something."

Amtrak's Cascades passenger train service remained shut down Monday between Eugene, Ore., and Vancouver, British Columbia. In a service alert issued Monday evening, though, Amtrak said most Cascades trains would be in operation Tuesday.

Bus passengers bound for Washington and Oregon were stuck for as long as three days in Salt Lake City because of road closures and hazardous conditions, Greyhound Lines Inc. spokeswoman Abby Wambaugh said. A sign on the door at the Greyhound bus station in Seattle said the company is evaluating road conditions and will decide Tuesday when buses can roll again.

Several travelers were at the Salt Lake City bus station on Monday, some of whom had already waited several days for a way out of town.

"I made it this far, and I've been stuck here ever since," said Nathan Collver, 30, a carpenter who was on his way from Austin, Texas, to Portland. Collver's wife is planning to fly to Portland on Jan. 6.

"From the looks of it, she's going to get there before I do," said Collver, who said he'd been at the terminal since Saturday night.

Stone, the stranded passenger in Los Angeles, said her family flew out of Lambert-St. Louis International Airport in Missouri on Saturday, but their flight to Minneapolis was canceled and they were rerouted to Las Vegas. Then their connecting flight was canceled — after eight hours of waiting.

They spent the night in Las Vegas and spent Sunday driving to California, where they ran into crawling traffic over the 4,190-foot-high Cajon Pass east of Los Angeles because of a big rig crash.

On Monday, the Stones called a few car rental companies, and discovered it would cost $1,000 to rent a vehicle to go one way from Los Angeles to Seattle.

The Stones ruled out that option because they had already spent $600 on hotels and the rental car from Las Vegas.

Then the Stones found out they couldn't get on a flight to Seattle until Christmas evening. So they decided to scrap Seattle altogether and drive to Kansas to visit other relatives.

"We're not going to fly anywhere for the rest of the winter," Colleen Stone said.

___

Associated Press writers Ryan Kost in Portland, Ore.; Tim Klass in Seattle; and Doug Alden in Salt Lake City contributed to this report.


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