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Nation's stranded travelers are down to an unlucky few

Operations at most airports return to normal after snow and ice played havoc with holiday plans.

December 25, 2008|ASSOCIATED PRESS

CHICAGO — With airports across the country recovering from a blast of snow and ice storms, unlucky holiday travelers stranded for a second night prepared to wake up Christmas morning at the nation's second-busiest airport.

Tommy and Siobhan Costello of Ireland arrived Tuesday at O'Hare International Airport en route to their honeymoon in San Diego.

About 500 flights were canceled, and weather disruptions meant the earliest flight out they could get was Thursday. Having packed for Southern California, the newlyweds didn't have warm clothes to venture out into Chicago, which was expected to dip into the single digits Wednesday evening.

"This was supposed to be a pit stop," said Siobhan Costello, 30, who wandered the terminal with her husband. "But there's nothing you can do."

Airline officials said the Costellos were among a dwindling group of stranded passengers. About 100 flights were canceled early Wednesday, but the weather improved as the day progressed.

City of Chicago Aviation Department spokesman Greg Cunningham said airlines at O'Hare had requested 75 cots for passengers Wednesday night.

Complicating matters at O'Hare, an American Airlines plane hit an icy patch while turning and slid sideways off the runway Wednesday evening. No one was injured, and 54 passengers were to be put on other flights leaving that night.

U.S. airports had largely recovered from a barrage of snow and ice Wednesday, but in the New York metro area, Newark airport was experiencing delays of more than four hours, and Kennedy was seeing delays of three hours, the Federal Aviation Administration said. But by Wednesday night, Kennedy's delays were down to 15 to 30 minutes.

"The airlines are dealing with nothing but unhappy customers," said Mike Conway, spokesman for Detroit's Metro Airport, where delays were reported because of conditions elsewhere in the country.

Despite more snow falling in the Seattle area, operations at Sea-Tac Airport had returned to normal Wednesday, said spokeswoman Terri-Ann Betancourt.

She said the only flight cancellations were caused by delays or cancellations at other airports.

"I've lived here 16 years and this is the first time I've thought, 'I wish it would rain!' " Betancourt said.

Forecasts indicated she might get her wish, at least briefly, with snow showers changing to rain Christmas Eve.

Amtrak, too, reported improvement Wednesday. Trains out of Chicago and elsewhere were leaving on time -- or relatively close to it -- unlike Tuesday, when several train trips were canceled and some 700 furious travelers waited as long as 22 hours at Chicago's Union Station, spokesman Marc Magliari said.

Elsewhere Wednesday, an avalanche in the Rocky Mountains of northern Utah killed two snowmobilers. The Utah Avalanche Center warned people not to venture into the backcountry.

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