Airlines battling ice to get fans to Super Bowl

In this Feb. 2, 2011 photo, Jassmine Alferez, of New York, slides across the ice in front of a Super Bowl XLV logo outside the NFL Experience in Dallas. With thawing temperatures expected over the weekend, airlines are optimistic that out-of-town fans will get to icy Texas in time to see the Super Bowl. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

February 3, 2011 11:57:05 PM PST
With thawing temperatures expected over the weekend, airlines are optimistic that out-of-town fans will get to icy Texas in time to see the Super Bowl. At least 1,250 flights to Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport have been canceled this week, according to flight-tracking service FlightAware. That's second only to Chicago's O'Hare Airport.

The bulk of the cancelations came Tuesday and Wednesday after an ice storm coated the region and was followed by temperatures in the teens.

By Thursday, DFW was operating on a nearly normal schedule even though temperatures barely rose into the 20s. American Airlines and its regional affiliate, American Eagle, expect to fly more than 90 percent of their flights at the big hub.

Some visitors missed events during the weeklong buildup to Sunday night's game between the Green Bay Packers and the Pittsburgh Steelers. But for most fans heading to Dallas for the game, Thursday "was the first busy day and (Friday) will be the busiest," said American Airlines spokesman Tim Smith.

"If we were going to have an ice storm in Dallas for the Super Bowl, Tuesday and Wednesday is certainly better than Friday, Saturday and Sunday," Smith said.

Another storm approaching north Texas was expected to bring only a light dusting of snow, which is less troublesome than ice for airports and airlines. But if Friday's weather proves worse than the forecast, it could leave fans watching the game at an airport bar -- flights the rest of the week are booked solid, leaving no place to accommodate travelers from canceled trips.

Temperatures are expected in the high 40s Saturday and Sunday.

The National Football League has talked to the airlines but hasn't demanded additional flights, said NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy.

"We did not make any specific requests," he said. "They recognize the importance of the Super Bowl."

The NFL used to prefer warm-weather spots for its championship game, but after Dallas the Super Bowl moves to a dome in Indianapolis in 2012 and outdoors in New Jersey's New Meadowlands Stadium in 2014.

As the NFL knows, even Southern cities can experience winter weather in January and February. The Dallas experience is reminiscent of the ice storm that gripped Atlanta in 2000, interfering with events leading up to the Super Bowl.

Long before the ice storm hit, the two major carriers in the Dallas-Fort Worth area added extra flights to handle the influx of Packers and Steelers fans.

Southwest Airlines added four flights on Friday -- with return trips on Monday -- between Dallas and both Pittsburgh and Milwaukee. Spokesman Brad Hawkins said there were no plans to add additional flights.

American had previously announced it would fly 12 additional American and Eagle round trips to Pittsburgh, Chicago, Milwaukee, Green Bay and Madison, Wis. Smith said American added two Chicago-to-Dallas flights Thursday with an eye toward helping stranded fans.

Some fans within driving distance of Dallas decided they had to get behind the wheel to be sure of making it to the game.

Philip Nelson, an executive at NewTek, which provides technology for websites to show live video streams and is working at the Super Bowl, was scheduled to take a Southwest flight from San Antonio to Dallas on Wednesday. When his flight was canceled, he didn't wait around to see if the evening flight that the airline put him on would take off. He jumped in his four-wheel-drive and made it to Dallas in under six hours, not much longer than normal.

Nelson said he feared driving on icy roads, but he had critical meetings in Dallas the next day.

"I followed the truckers -- I figured they would know which lane to be in," he said. There wasn't much traffic, he added, "but there were a lot of cars stuck along the side of the road."