Most Wayne Airport Travelers Faring Well : Some Passengers Inconvenienced; Operations at Facility Generally 'Busy but Smooth'

Times Staff Writer

It should have been the ideal Christmas holiday--catch a morning flight to Lake Tahoe, strap on the skis and whoosh down the first snow-packed hill in sight by afternoon.

But for Susan and Jimmy Yanez and their 15-year-old daughter, Karri, it didn't work out that way. First, their flight was canceled because Lake Tahoe Airport was socked in with fog, making airplane landing and takeoff impossible.

Then, the Huntington Beach family was told it would have a six-hour wait to get a flight to an alternate airport in Reno.

But that wasn't all.

After leaving his wife and daughter to guard their voluminous luggage, Jimmy Yanez went to pick up the car and found that "he had lost his parking ticket, so he had to pay the full $10 (instead of about $1) to get the car back," Susan said, as she sat collapsed on a large, blue suitcase.

It was a case of adding insult to injury.

"You never think of fog for Tahoe. You think of snow. Oh, well . . . this just means we don't ski for one day. So we're going home to watch football" until it's time to leave again, she said, as her husband drove up in the family Blazer.

With the exception of a small handful of delayed and canceled flights, pre-Christmas Sunday at John Wayne Airport was uneventful and relatively uncrowded.

"It's been busy but just smooth, thank goodness," said Ray McCarthy, airport operations duty officer. "Normally they (holidays) are bad. Thanksgiving is by far our worst. It's all come and go, whereas Christmas is spread over several days. Friday was really bad here. Saturday was again busy, but not like Friday."

McCarthy said the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and the weekends before and after Christmas are traditionally the worst for the small regional airport, like most others.

But at least John Wayne--with only nine major airlines and one commuter line--is spared the pandemonium of larger airports such as those in Los Angeles and San Francisco, he said.

"There's no comparison," said Jon Phillips, 25, shortly after stepping off an airplane from San Francisco. "San Francisco was a mess, a real zoo. There were lines half as long as this airport and back four times. I'll never fly out on Christmas again."

But the crowds were the least of Phillips' worries on his trip south to visit family and friends in Newport Beach.

"Our flight was delayed an hour," he said. "The plane had a dead battery. They had to send out for a new one. Seriously. It was free cocktails for everyone."

Unlike the fogbound Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, where a four-piece band played "White Christmas" and "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" to soothe the spirits of thousands of stranded travelers, the only choruses at John Wayne were the loudspeakers' constant admonitions not to park curbside in front of the airport entrance:

"The white zone is for the immediate loading and unloading of passengers only. No parking," blared the recorded messages.

But that didn't seem to dampen the spirits of Barbara Kelly, a 27-year-old Costa Mesa resident. At 3:10, she was waiting in front of Gate 6 to pick up her mother, who would be visiting from Glendale, Ariz. It was Kelly's second airport trip of the day (she dropped off a friend earlier), and, she said, "actually it's not too bad. I'm surprised."

"I'm glad my mom is coming in here. I'd be a lot more up-tight if she was flying into LAX," Kelly said. "Last year, I picked up friends at LAX, and I thought it would be as much of a mess here, but it's not. And the weather's terrific."

Moments later, Arlene and Barbara Kelly had linked arms and headed to the parking lot, past a woman whose warmest garment was a "California Beach Club" sweat shirt.

"Yup, this has been the coldest day we've had," said one man to a disbelieving friend, who had just stepped off an airplane inbound from a colder clime. "Yesterday was even better."

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