Problems persist for travelers at Charlotte airport

Problems persist for travelers at Charlotte airport


by NewsChannel 36 / Charlotte Observer

NewsChannel 36 / Charlotte Observer

Posted on January 12, 2011 at 9:39 AM

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- At beleaguered Charlotte-Douglas International Airport Wednesday morning, the number of flight cancellations diminished considerably from recent days -- but now travelers are facing problems because of a powerful snowstorm up the East Coast.

The storm that shut down much of the South earlier this week churned northward and dumped wet, heavy snow in the Northeast.

Charles Herbst was in line to get a ticket to the area when he was told all flights were cancelled.

"If it's not one thing..." Herbst said. "I guess if I ever get home I'll be lucky."

Passengers on cancelled flights were sent to US Airways Special Services for assistance making travel arrangements.

Meanwhile, airline ticket agents were struggling to rebook other passengers who have been struck in Charlotte for three days. 

Among them was a basketball team from Australia that was supposed to go to Disneyland Tuesday. Instead, they were forced to hang out at the airport.

"Sitting around doesn't compare to going on rollercoasters and eating a lot of junk food," said Blake Shorrock.

Precipitation from this week's winter storm ended early Tuesday, but US Airways cancelled almost all of its flights from its largest hub, stranding thousands of passengers, including many who slept in the terminal.

Many passengers should get moving Wednesday, airport officials say.

The airport received a shipment of de-icing fluid Tuesday afternoon, and was expecting a second shipment late at night.

"We're planning to go full throttle in the morning," said airport spokesperson Haley Gentry.

Though the airport said it would be on track, there are questions as to why it ran out of glycol, the principal component of de-icing fluid.

In previous winters, individual airlines were responsible for their own de-icing fluid. But this winter, Charlotte/Douglas took over the service from US Airways, while other airlines are still responsible for their own de-icing.

Those airlines appeared to handle the storm better, and many of their flights were operating Tuesday. But the US Airways network was crippled because of the storm and its aftermath.

As of midday Tuesday, the airline had cancelled 1,326 flights out of roughly 3,100 nationwide. The airline said a majority of those cancellations were for flights going in or out of Charlotte.

Michelle Mohr, a US Airways spokesperson, said the airline was speaking to the airport Tuesday to try get its fleet operating. She said it was too early to comment on the de-icing shortage, which will probably cost the airline millions of dollars.

When asked whether the airline had run out of the fluid in previous winters when it was responsible for de-icing, Mohr said it hadn't.

"We did not experience the same situation when we managed," Mohr said in an e-mail.

Gentry said the storm was worse than forecast.

"The duration of the ice was longer than we thought," Gentry said. "The initial forecast was that it would start around 11 p.m. (Tuesday) and it started around 5 p.m."

She also said the aircraft were requiring two to three times as much glycol than usual.

"The whole eastern seaboard is facing these challenges," she said.