Fog in Seattle Grounds Thousands : Holiday Air Travelers Scramble to Find Way Out of Town

Associated Press

Thousands of holiday air travelers grounded by dense fog scrambled for flights Saturday as the mist that surrounded the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport for three days finally lifted.

But forecasters warned that more fog was expected Saturday night before a new weather system moves in today to end the problem.

The airport was down to 10% of normal flights after fog rolled in Wednesday and cut visibility to less than 700 feet. But operations were back to normal by 9 a.m. Saturday, supervisor Henry Hampton said.

"I have no idea how many planes got out this morning," he said. "We were too busy doing other things."

Diverted to Portland

Many incoming planes were diverted to Portland, Ore., and Yakima, about 100 miles southeast of Seattle, where Avis and National car rental agents said they ran out of cars to rent to people wanting to drive to Seattle. Some passengers leaving Seattle were bused to Portland, 175 miles to the south, where fog was not a problem.

Others waited, watching the gloom, sleeping on their luggage, jamming airport snack bars, restaurants and lounges and forming long lines at ticket counters.

Teddy Suggs, who had been stranded during two of his nine days of military leave from Ft. Lewis in nearby Tacoma, said he and an Army buddy, Aaron Sutton, took turns standing in lines.

"We decided to team up," Suggs said. "One man can only stand in line for so long."

Both were waiting for a flight to Dallas, Sutton to continue to Louisville, Ky. They went to two other airlines before getting on a standby list for a Delta Airlines flight Saturday.

Thousands Still Stuck

Thousands were still stuck at the airport early Saturday, Hampton said. He could not estimate the exact number.

"I've been stranded here 12 hours trying to get a flight to Minneapolis," said James Konat of Seattle, who carried a large box of fish on ice along with his luggage. "I've got about $100 worth of seafood in this box. I've got about 24 hours before it rots."

On Thursday, 65 planes took off or landed, compared with about 600 on a normal day, said George Orr, assistant air traffic manager. About 35 flights departed or arrived between midnight Thursday and 4 p.m. Friday, he said.

The fog hampered the delivery of Christmas cards and packages as workers at the Postal Service's airport facility struggled to get a million pieces of mail to their destinations. The Postal Service and private express cargo carriers were using trucks to get mail to airports at Portland, Spokane and San Francisco.

Robbie Stephens, operations manager for the airport post office, predicted 80% of the mail there Friday would make it to recipients by Christmas.

Airline Adds Flights

Horizon Airlines, a regional carrier, added flights between Yakima and Portland to handle the extra traffic.

"We have all these extra people that can't get into Seattle. They are just sending us planes from Portland, and we are filling them up and sending them back to Portland," said a Horizon spokeswoman in Yakima.

To brighten the spirits of the stranded, a four-piece band decked out in holiday garb played "White Christmas" and "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" as hundreds stood in line seeking information at the United Airlines counter.

A couple of Santas circulated through the crowd, distributing balloons and candy to youngsters.

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