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Wintry Weather Halts Holiday Travel

December 21, 2006

Wintry Weather Halts Holiday Travel
Dec. 21, 2006 –Ghastly winter weather is hampering travel this holiday. More than 4,700 passengers are stranded at the Denver International Airport after a blizzard dumped more than two feet of snow in Colorado. The closed airport canceled more than 1,000 flights. Additionally, tens of thousands of passengers are stranded at London’s Heathrow Airport today as a freezing fog has forced hundreds of flight cancellations there as well.

The winter storm in Denver has delayed thousands at the start of the Christmas rush. Some people could be stuck at Denver International Airport for days, sleeping on cots while forecasts call for 20 inches of snow, said airport spokesman Chuck Cannon.

The Air Transport Association predicts a record number of passengers during the holiday travel period through Jan. 3. It forecasts an average of 2 million a day, a 2.4 percent increase from last year. About 158,000 were supposed to pass through Denver on Wednesday.

"It’s going to disrupt the holiday for thousands of people," said aviation consultant Michael Boyd. "You could have as many as 35 to 40 United airplanes stuck here. That would ripple through the system."

By Wednesday evening, airport hotels were fully booked, the airport road was closed, and 1,000 people were in the Denver airport’s corridors, Cannon said.

Denver is the No. 2 hub for United Airlines. United canceled more than 600 flights in and out of Denver Wednesday and 160 more Thursday morning. To support and serve customers better, United Airlines is offering advice for customers who are traveling through Denver. Customers can minimize possible inconvenience by checking the status of their flights at, or by calling 800-UNITED-1 for automated, up-to-the-minute flight arrival and departure information.

If customers would like to change travel plans, United is offering a waiver for customers currently traveling to, from, or through Denver who would like to make one change to their return trip, rules and restrictions regarding standard change fees, advance purchases, day or time applications, blackouts and minimum or maximum stay requirements have been waived. Customers who have not begun travel to, from, or through Denver may make one change to their travel plans without change fees or advance purchase requirements for the same itinerary.

Bus and light rail service in a six-county region also were suspended in the Denver area. Stretches of Interstates 70 and 25, the main east-west and north-south routes through the Mountain West, were closed. Interstate 76 was closed from Denver to Nebraska.

In other news, Europe’s busiest airport was forced to set up heated tents, sleeping mats and catering stalls to accommodate travelers after British Airways canceled 180 flights, including all domestic and some European services. Nearly 350 flights have been canceled since Tuesday at Heathrow, when a thick blanket of freezing fog moved in to the city.

The fog was expected to continue through Friday, raising the possibility that thousands more passengers could be stranded. Eurostar reported a 15 percent spike in traffic as frustrated airline passengers boarded trains to get to Paris and Brussels.

Mark Bullock, managing director of BAA Heathrow, said the airport’s capacity had been reduced by about 40 percent.

"The cancellations will need to continue as long as the weather conditions prevail," he told the British Broadcasting Corp. Flights at other London airports were relatively unaffected, with nine cancellations reported at Stansted and none at Gatwick.

For flight delay information from the FAA, click here.

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