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Stranded passengers try to make the best of airport tedium

Waiting for the air to clear over Europe, grounded vacationers try to stay upbeat.

April 20, 2010

The 45 French tourists had just finished a wonderful vacation. "A marvelous time," Max Boucke said. Their 13-day tour had taken them through San Francisco, Las Vegas, Death Valley, the Grand Canyon and Carmel.

They were ready to catch a plane home Thursday, when they learned that their flight had been canceled, a victim of the volcanic ash floating above Europe.

Five days later, the group was back at Los Angeles International Airport, hoping that the air had finally cleared and that they finally were going to make it onto an Air France jet headed to Paris.

The airline had paid for two nights in a hotel, but since then, the group had been trying to save money by putting four and five people in a room at the Radisson Hotel in Culver City and buying food at supermarkets. They hadn't gone sightseeing but had stayed near the hotel in case the call came telling them to head to the airport.

They had planned to visit Rodeo Drive on Tuesday, but after Boucke received a call at 7 a.m., they were back at LAX with others in the same predicament.

But just a few feet from where the French tourists had made camp at the airport, Carl Wannheden was in line for a plane to Paris, where he would make a connection to Zurich. Wannheden had started the day in Hawaii. Before he left the islands, he had called the airline to make sure he was booked all the way to Europe and wouldn't be stuck in no man's land.

"I pity those people," he said, looking at the French tourists.

As the skies clear in Europe and planes return to the sky, there is a backload of passengers whose flights had been canceled and who have been stuck on the ground. Those waiting at the airport said passengers who already had booked seats on flights kept them, while those whose planes had been canceled were on long standby lists, scrambling to find empty spaces.

Gemma Davy and Morad Tollaz had been told their 9:20 p.m. flight to London on Virgin Air was canceled. They were going from ticket counter to ticket counter at the Tom Bradley International Terminal trying to find seats on a flight anywhere in Europe. Virgin told them the next open flight to London was on May 7. British Airways said it was booked until May 5.

The couple had been laid off from jobs at a bank, or "made redundant," as they put it, and they worried about spending too much money while waiting for a plane. But they tried to remain cheerful.

"It could have been worse," Tollaz said. "We could be in the middle of nowhere."

Carmela Massa was waiting in the food court with her two children as her husband tried to get them on a Lufthansa plane to Italy. The couple had flown from New Zealand to Los Angeles and spent three days at Disneyland. They were supposed to leave Friday.

Instead, for the last two days they have taken the shuttle from the Howard Johnson in Anaheim to LAX, hoping to be rewarded with four boarding passes for the 9 p.m. flight.

"We're not in dire straights, but with kids we don't want to do this for days on end," Massa said.

jeff.gottlieb@latimes.com

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