Winter blast strands holiday travelers

SEATTLE, WA [SIGN UP: Get headlines and breaking news sent to you]

"I've got phone books as a pillow," said Greyhound passenger Phillip Barton, having given up hope of reaching his home in Ketchikan, Alaska, by Christmas.

A weekend storm dumped about 5 inches of snow around Seattle by Sunday morning, and it snowed anew all afternoon, with the National Weather Service predicting up to 4 inches more by Monday morning.

Storms in the Northeast and Midwest also produced travel headaches for those trying to get home by road, rail and air. Chicago's O'Hare International Airport, one of the world's busiest, canceled about 150 flights Sunday.

Some flights arrived two to three hours late Sunday at New York's Kennedy Airport and Boston's Logan Airport, according to the Federal Aviation Administration, though delays diminished later in the evening.

Even fair-weather airports weren't immune from tie-ups. George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston had delays averaging about five hours, and flights from Atlanta to Boston and New York were also delayed.

Two of the three runways at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport were operating, but airlines canceled scores of flights Saturday and Sunday, leaving several hundred people wondering when they'd get on a plane, airport spokesman Perry Cooper said. Alaska and Horizon airlines suspended all service Sunday afternoon.

Several airlines urged passengers to rebook flights online from their homes, rather than clog ticket counters. Virgin America encouraged passengers not to fly out of Seattle on Sunday by waiving ticket-change fees for anyone who decided to stay home.

The airport in Portland, Ore., also remained open, albeit with many canceled flights.

Those hoping to save money in tough economic times by taking the bus were stymied. A few dozen passengers were stranded at Greyhound's Seattle terminal Sunday, with no buses running, and some people had been there for days. Fed up, some passengers rented cars and braved the slippery roads on their own.

Barton, a 30-year-old diesel mechanic, said he left Florida on Dec. 9 for a 3,700-mile trip to Bellingham, Wash., where he planned to catch a weekly ferry to Alaska. He arrived in Seattle on Tuesday and said the snow kept him from making it to Bellingham.

"As soon as I get there, I'll get there," he said. "I don't particularly want to spend Christmas in a Greyhound station."

Steven Jemison, a 39-year-old steakhouse chef from Osage Beach, Mo., was hoping to make it to his sister's home in San Diego for Christmas on Thursday and was taking the bus because "with the economy, everyone's trying to save as much money as they can."

He had been stuck at the Seattle terminal since Friday, but that was nothing new. He also had to wait in Chicago for four days and in Spokane for three because of foul weather.

"It's been like this all across the top part of the country," he said.

As for the accommodations, "they're not the greatest."

"I mean, change the TV station; play a movie or something," he said. "Keep people occupied. And get blankets or cots for the kids, or at least for the kids and the elderly. There's no reason a 70-year-old should have to sleep sitting up."

Greyhound spokesman Eric Wesley in Dallas said the company was doing what it could. The company reported delays in between Seattle and Billings, Mont.; Portland, Ore.; and Vancouver, British Columbia.

"We're going to do our best to take care of the passengers," he said. "We'll wait and see what the weather does before we put any passengers on the highway."

Amtrak also canceled train service Sunday between Eugene, Ore., and Vancouver; and between Seattle and Spokane. Service from Seattle to Los Angeles was still running, but with "extreme delays," Amtrak said in a news release.

Crystal Kunze, a 59-year-old retiree from Onalaska, Wis., boarded an Amtrak train in Chicago around 4 p.m. and hadn't moved an inch more than five hours later. She was traveling with her sister and grandson to visit her daughter in New Braunfels, Texas.

She waited six hours for a Saturday morning train in Wisconsin only to end up taking a bus to Milwaukee and then a train to Chicago, she said, holding a book in her lap. She was supposed to arrive in Texas on Monday night but held out little hope that she'd get there soon.

"As long as we make it by Christmas, it will be fine," she said.

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