Travelers in holding pattern for holidays
Many travelers trying to get out of town for the holidays — by plane, train or bus — are finding themselves no closer to their goal. Flights at Sea-Tac Airport began to ramp up Monday, and Amtrak trains were running, but long delays were still being reported. At Seattle's Greyhound station, some stalled travelers looked for other solutions.
Seattle Times staff reporters
Travel informationAlaska/Horizon airlines: www.alaskair.com and www.horizonair.com, or by calling 800-252-7522 or 800-547-9308.
Amtrak: www.amtrak.com, or 1-800-USA-RAIL (1-800-872-7245) or TDD/TTY (1-800-523-6590).
Greyhound: www.greyhound.com, or 1-800-231-2222 or TDD/TTY 1-800-345-3109.
Whether they chose air, road or rail, many holiday travelers found themselves in the same place Monday: stuck.
At Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, flights were beginning to ramp up Monday after Sunday's standstill, but with planes flying full for the holidays, some likely won't find seats in time to reach their destinations by Christmas. While many slept on the floor or in chairs, other bleary-eyed passengers again stood in lines that snaked around the terminal, some counting their delays by days rather than hours.
"One [Alaska Airlines employee] told me I should go home and wait until after Christmas," groused Regina Moritz, of Port Orchard, after spending eight hours waiting for a flight to Las Vegas.
At the Greyhound bus station in downtown Seattle, about 200 people crammed shoulder to shoulder Monday morning, waiting for a bus out of town. Some had been waiting for several days — and counting.
Monday would offer more of the same: Greyhound canceled all service through this morning because of snow and ice on the roads.
At Seattle's Amtrak station, passengers encountered similar frustrations as the rail line's Cascades passenger service remained shut down Monday between Eugene, Ore., and Vancouver, B.C. Gus Melonas, a spokesman for BNSF Railway, which operates the tracks, said partial service might be restored today.
Amtrak's long-haul Empire Builder and Coast Starlight trains were still running, but Melonas said long delays were possible.
Laurie McQueen, of Issaquah, was scheduled to return from Portland on Saturday on a 4 p.m. train, but the train didn't leave until 4 a.m. Sunday and the usual three-hour trip took more than eight hours, she said.
Amtrak, she said, simply wasn't prepared for the delays. There was no food or water at the station for nearly seven hours, when the staff finally raided a supply room for bottled water and packages of nuts, McQueen said.
"They ran out of toilet paper," she said.
The outlook at Sea-Tac
Alaska Airlines and Horizon Air resumed service at Sea-Tac airport Monday, but at limited capacity.
Tom Gerharter, senior vice president of Horizon Air operations, says the airlines expect to resume full operation in Seattle by Tuesday, if the weather continue to improve.
Airlines are allowing customers to rebook flights without penalties, but seats are hard to come by.
"It fully depends on the destination," Horizon Air spokeswoman Jen Boyer said Monday. "We're doing everything we can. We're giving them their money back. We're rebooking them for different dates. We stayed open all night last night [handling] reservations."
Horizon and Alaska, which fly about half of Sea-Tac's passengers, left customers fuming because they were unable to get through to Alaska or Horizon reservations agents on the phone or on the Web site to rebook travel.
Passenger Monica Hu said in an e-mail that she tried calling Alaska's 800 numbers multiple times after hearing Sunday that her Monday flight to Kansas City had been canceled. When she went to the Web site to rebook, she received a message directing her to call the 800 numbers.
"Essentially, I cannot get ahold of Alaska right now. I am trying to book flights out of Seattle, but I can't find anything [for less than] $1,000 to Kansas City before Christmas Eve," she said.
Alaska spokesman Paul McElroy said the airlines were bringing in additional staffers to handle the phone calls.
"We are aware how overloaded our reservation system is," he said. "We're trying as hard as we can to respond, given the situation."
Alaska and Horizon blamed Sunday's across-the-board cancellations partly on a shortage of de-icing fluid, which caused some customers to question why other airlines seemed better prepared.
McElroy said Alaska's supplies were affected by trucks unable to get across the mountain passes and trains stuck on frozen tracks.
"It was certainly a factor, but in addition we had a need to reset the operation, to get crews rested, to get gate areas cleared and get maintenance performed," he said.
Many passengers were upset that the airlines didn't provide hotel vouchers for those left stranded, but it's rare for airlines to do that when it comes to weather-related cancellations.
Alaska's policy is to provide hotel accommodations if a cancellation occurs 100 miles or more away from a passenger's home, but only in the event that the cancellation isn't caused by weather or an air-traffic problem beyond its control.
Passengers also reported problems rebooking on United Airlines.
United spokeswoman Megan McCarthy said reports that United was telling customers they couldn't get them rebooked on flights until after Christmas were untrue. United canceled 12 of its 34 daily departures out of Sea-Tac on Monday and was adding additional flights today to get people home, she said.
"Every man for himself"
Sean Pedersen, of Orcas Island, arrived at Seattle's Greyhound station Saturday morning but has been stuck there ever since, sleeping on the floor. He's hoping to see his mother in Missouri.
"I thought I would beat the storm and make it for Christmas," he said.
Steven Jemison, trying to get to San Diego, had been waiting for a bus for four days; Phillip Barton, who left Fort Myers, Fla., nearly two weeks ago on his way to Ketchikan, Alaska, had been here for six.
"There's no rhyme or reason here," said Ed Vergeldt, of Gaylord, Mich. "It's every man for himself."
But when one enterprising group chartered a private bus to Spokane, Vergeldt's wife, Sharon, a first-grade teacher, decided to take action. "I thought if you can go to Spokane, you can go to Portland," she said.
Within a half-hour, she'd started compiling a list of passengers eager to take a southbound charter bus for about $53 a seat.
She climbed up and stood high on a station seat. "Anyone else want to go to Portland?" she said.
A chorus of raised hands. A list of 13 grew to 30.
Once Greyhound announced all bus service was canceled for another 24 hours, Vergeldt was besieged with questions. Can we get on the bus? Is there still room? How much will it cost?
By midday, the count was up to 56 passengers, with 10 more on the waiting list.
Seattle Times staff reporter Mike Carter and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
Sam and Sara Lucchese create handmade pasta out of their kitchen-garage adjacent to their Ballard home. Here, they illustrate the final steps in making pappardelle pasta.