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Airport Awaiting the Crunch That Stole Christmas

December 14, 1987|JEFFREY A. PERLMAN | Times Urban Affairs Writer

It was busy in Delaney's bar by 9 a.m. one day last week.

Outside on the tarmac a chiffon-like fog was lifting.

John Wayne Airport had been closed to planes for two hours, delaying 34 flights.

Delaney's is the only bar at the airport.

"Normally, I'd say this is the pits," said Mike Tanney, a Fullerton insurance agent, sipping a Bloody Mary, his feet planted in a forest of luggage. "I'm going to be late. . . . But all things considered, this isn't bad at all."

In fact, it wasn't bad at all, considering what it's going to be like in about a week.

John Wayne Airport Manager George Rebella says now is the best time to fly, if you must, during the holiday season. Don't wait until it gets any closer to Christmas--and don't even think about that period right after New Year's.

'Middle of the Two-Week Lull'

Even on that foggy morning last week, choice parking places were available near the terminal. And crowds in the terminal thinned once flights resumed.

"We were very lucky," Rebella said. "We're in the middle of a two-week lull that we always get in the middle, between Thanksgiving and Christmas, when we have some of our lightest traffic of the year."

But that won't last, he said. And a parking lot re-striping project, along with the closure of an exit lane at MacArthur Boulevard for storm-drain work, won't help either. Soon, John Wayne Airport will not be a pretty sight.

If the Sunday after Thanksgiving was any indication, Rebella said, airport volume records for the holiday season may be shattered. The airport served a record 16,131 people that day.

American Airlines has added 11 scheduled departures between Thursday and Dec. 31. And Pacific Southwest Airlines has added 31 scheduled departures during the same period.

"There are seats still available," said Linda Honts, an agent with Irvine-based Associated Travel Services. "But by this date, you're not going to get your deep discounts. You're not going to be able to travel perhaps at the most desirable times. . . .

Ha, Ha, Requests for Dec. 23 Flights

"You want a good laugh? We are just now receiving requests for flights leaving John Wayne on Dec. 23. . . . John Wayne is one of the first airports to get booked up. . . . There aren't enough flights. You may have to leave from Long Beach, Los Angeles or Ontario."

Standing in a 15-person America West ticket line last week, Eric Phillips of Olympia, Wash., marveled at how smoothly things were going. Later, he realized that he was in the wrong queue. He wanted Alaska Airlines, at the adjoining counter. Eric Phillips' advice to holiday travelers: "Stay home."

Flying to Phoenix on business, Craig Gale said: "It's OK now, but it gets worse the closer you get to the 23rd. . . . Don't drive your own car to the airport."

Pam, a businesswoman on her way to Dallas, said: "I try to be here at least 45 minutes early."

Bill Sartor, a businessman on his way to Tucson, said he books flights far in advance and takes only carry-on luggage. Does he leave his car at home? "Oh God, yes," he said.

Dan Smith, spokesman for the International Airline Passengers Assn., said members have learned one thing about holiday travel:

"Stay out of the skies."

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