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More than 1,000 Christmas Eve flights take off from Denver

December 25, 2006|From the Associated Press

DENVER — Hundreds of flights left Denver's beleaguered airport on Christmas Eve with many passengers who had been stranded when a two-day blizzard shut down its runways last week.

The airport's two biggest airlines, United and Frontier, said they flew full schedules of a combined 1,200 flights Sunday.

They had a similar schedule Saturday as travelers around the country whose itineraries were wrecked by the storm raced to get home.

Last Christmas Eve, an estimated 129,000 passengers passed through Denver International Airport, the nation's sixth-busiest, but officials say patterns change from year to year.

Airline officials said they had no way of knowing when the backlog of passengers might be cleared because they didn't know what decisions travelers made.

"Did they cancel? Did they find another form of transportation to get to their destination? Did they book at another time?" asked Frontier spokesman Joe Hodas.

United also was running nearly on schedule Sunday despite adding flights to its regular 900 and holding some planes to make sure every seat was filled, spokeswoman Robin Urbanski said.

She said many standby passengers were boarding the planes, but did not know how many.

Leigh Bingham of Denver was waiting to board a flight to Albuquerque on Sunday to spend Christmas with her parents and siblings. She said she missed a flight Friday after three hours in the airport's security checkpoint line. "That was the longest line I've ever seen, including for roller coasters," she said.

On Sunday, the snaking line was gone and she made it through with plenty of time to spare. "I'm very, very, very happy," she said.

Sharon Lewis Koho, 60, of Nampa, Idaho, also expected to leave Sunday after her flight to Boise was canceled Wednesday. She made herself at home on a cot with a blanket and a stack of books. "Welcome to my living room," she said. "I have a bathroom, a drinking fountain," she said, motioning across the terminal. "I've just settled in."

Crews moved about 4.4 million cubic yards of snow from runways, taxiways, ramps, deicing areas and roadways, airport spokesman Steve Snyder said.

More than 3,000 incoming flights were canceled or diverted while the airport was shut down for 45 hours after the storm hit Wednesday.

Some passengers left for hotels or gave up and went home, but others stuck it out at the airport. An estimated 4,700 camped there at the peak of the closure.

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