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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Travelers take a back seat to weather

Gonzaga student Travis Branch, left, waits to reschedule his flight home to Hawaii on Friday as dense fog shrouds Spokane International Airport.

At 5 a.m. Thursday, Quinton Richards began his trek to Baltimore from Butte, Mont.

On Friday evening, Richards was farther from Baltimore than when he started, trapped at Spokane International Airport by dense fog that had inundated the Northwest since Thursday.

More than 30 incoming flights were canceled because of fog in Spokane, Portland and Seattle, said airport spokesman Todd Woodard. On Thursday, about the same number of flights were canceled. That’s at an airport that has 73 daily departures.

Richards had one of the more frustrating stories. He had seen two of his flights canceled (one on Thursday and a second on Friday), stood in an hour-long line at the Southwest Airlines counter and spent one night in the airport lobby.

Despite these impediments, Richards had calmly accepted his fate Friday: another night of “sleeping” in an airport lobby chair. (He said he had no desire to lie on the airport’s floor.)

“It’s been bad,” Richards said with a resigned smile. “I’m fine, though.”

Woodard said most of the delays are attributed to planes with less sophisticated equipment or to crews who don’t have enough experience using the equipment while landing in Spokane.

“These are primarily aircraft with 50 seats or less,” Woodard said. “Larger planes have been coming and going.”

The National Weather Service issued a fog advisory effective through this morning, forecasting visibilities of less than a quarter mile.

Karen Foote, who has worked on and off at the airport since the mid-1960s, said she couldn’t remember the last time fog had such a grip on the flights out of Spokane.

“Usually it clears at about 11,” Foote said. “But that really hasn’t happened here.”

Foote, a Budget Car Rental customer service representative, said several travelers whose flights were scratched rented cars to get to their destination. Those one-way rentals won’t make up for the people who reserved cars and never made it to Spokane, she said.

Colfax grandmother Jerene Shenefelt decided to give up on the Spokane airport after her 9:30 a.m. Southwest flight got the ax.

“They told me that I could wait a couple days,” Shenefelt said. “I thought, ‘I’m not going to wait a couple of days.’ “

Each delay and cancellation means less precious time she’ll be able to spend with her daughter and grandchildren in San Jose for the holidays.

So Friday night, Shenefelt was waiting at the Spokane Intermodal Center to catch a Greyhound bus to Portland, where she hopes to make her final flight to San Jose.

Many travelers reported that folks seemed to be handling the added stress well.

“Everybody’s pretty relaxed about it,” said Travis Branch, a Gonzaga University senior trying – mostly unsuccessfully on Friday – to make his way home for Christmas break to Kailua, Hawaii. “They’re tired, but they understand they can’t do anything.”

Francisco Martinez finished classes this week at the University of Idaho just in time to make it to his sister’s wedding on Saturday in Guanajuato, Mexico. That is, until the fog came. He was frustrated that computer monitors at the airport on Friday never told of his cancelled flight, which delayed his efforts to get a new one.

“Why didn’t anybody change the screens?” he said.

Friday night, he was holding out hope that he could at least arrive in Guanajuato on the evening of the wedding. He has a flight scheduled for early this morning from Pasco, but on Friday he hadn’t figured out a way to get to the central Washington town.

Richards, who was waiting to get to Baltimore, said he hadn’t requested any refunds, price cuts or frequent flier mileage from Southwest for his troubles.

“They did give me a voucher to a hotel,” said Richards, a sophomore at Montana Tech. But it was only for half off the cost.

“I’m still broke, so I couldn’t do it.”

He got a second voucher that will go unused for Friday night.