Flights canceled, travelers stuck at Charlotte Douglas

elyportillo@charlotteobserver.comFebruary 13, 2014 

CLTairport0214

Lee Blakeborough of Greenville waits in Charlotte’s airport after being told her flight to Portland, Ore., with her husband was canceled.

T. ORTEGA GAINES — ogaines@charlotteobserver.com

More flights were canceled at Charlotte Douglas International Airport on Thursday than any single day in at least a decade, airport officials said, leaving travelers stranded and airlines struggling to get their schedules back on track.

In all, more than 1,340 arrivals and departures were scratched Thursday at Charlotte Douglas, according to FlightStats.com. That’s the vast majority of the Charlotte’s typical daily schedule, and the most in the nation Thursday.

The airport will be open Friday, and crews were working to clear runways and get ready for planes to start moving again.

Most of those canceled flights were operated by US Airways, now a subsidiary of American Airlines. As the storm moved north, major airports in Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and New York were also severely affected.

By late afternoon, US Airways had canceled more than two-thirds of its 3,000 daily flights nationwide and announced no more flights would arrive or depart for the rest of the day in Charlotte.

“This is ridiculous,” said Francis Cintron, waiting in a long line of passengers trying to rebook flights. She said she had been trying to get home to Cleveland for two days.

“I’ve never seen it like this before. It’s a nightmare, especially when your luggage is …” Cintron waved her hand at the ceiling, unsure where her bags were.

About 1,000 travelers spent Wednesday night in the terminal, and officials were preparing to accommodate more stranded passengers again on Thursday night.

Early cancellations ahead of the worst of the storm kept many travelers at home Thursday. But for those still trying to fly out – or those who were stuck because they missed their connecting flight – Charlotte Douglas became a gloomy waiting room for many hours, or even days.

The line of people trying to get to the US Airways counter and rebook flights Thursday afternoon stretched from next to Checkpoint C to the end of the terminal, Checkpoint A.

The passengers in limbo kept track of their ordeal by exchanging numbers as they chatted: Two hours for one man standing in line, six flights canceled for another man, a woman considering asking her son to drive eight hours and pick her up.

Many were frustrated. A woman started crying as she explained to a US Airways representative that there were no hotel rooms to book and she didn’t want to sleep in the terminal again, and another simply exclaimed “Oh, my God!” when told that she was looking at the line to rebook.

A US Airways employee passed out slips of paper with a toll-free number to call and rebook flights, but passengers said it wasn’t working. One woman said she had waited for more than five hours to try to reach a live representative.

Davien Anderson, a US Airways spokesman, said the high number of people calling in was making it tough for people to get through.

“Call volume is quite high right now as customers call to rebook their flight,” Anderson said.

Lee Blakeborough sat in the terminal on a suitcase, surrounded by hard baggage filled with fencing equipment. She and her husband were supposed to be on their way to Portland, Ore., where he was to coach nine students in a fencing tournament.

“This was supposed to be part of my birthday trip,” she said.

Blakeborough had been up since 6 a.m. in Greenville, S.C. She and her husband drove from there to Charlotte. Since their original flight was canceled, they had already been rebooked on several more flights that were scratched.

With the trip now in serious doubt, the Blakeboroughs were considering turning around and going home.

Charlotte Douglas’ volunteer chaplains were on hand to help worried passengers. Deacon George Szalony, who has headed the airport’s chaplaincy for five years, said it’s easy to recognize a stranded passenger.

“Their posture is kind of like they’re defeated,” he said. “Most folks kind of just collapse and sit there.”

Szalony said he and the 15 other chaplains counsel patience in the face of circumstances.

“We can’t solve their travel problems,” Szalony said. “What’s happening now is beyond any of our control.”

Portillo: 704-358-5041; Twitter: @ESPortillo

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