Air travelers face more delays |

Air travelers face more delays

Janet Urquhart

Air travelers stranded in Aspen for two days by a snowstorm and the resulting low visibility found themselves stuck again Thursday morning despite sunshine and blue skies. Blame the cold.Well, one airline was reportedly blaming Pitkin County for failing to clear the runway adequately, but an airport official said it was temperatures plunging overnight Wednesday to 16 degrees below zero that left the runway unsuitable for the first departures of the day on Thursday.”The runway was plowed,” said airport director Jim Elwood. “There was some patchy snow at the edges of the runway.”It was enough, though, for both Delta and United to delay their scheduled departures. The 8:05 a.m. Delta flight to Salt Lake City didn’t depart until after noon, while the 7:05 a.m. United connection to Denver left shortly after 11:30 a.m., and the second flight of the day was canceled.Airport officials examined the runway with the pilots before the jets took off, according to Elwood.Delta, however, informed its passengers that their flight had been canceled, then apparently decided to send it after some travelers had already left the airport.”It has been a tough couple of days,” conceded Bill Tomcich, president of reservations agency Stay Aspen Snowmass and the resort’s liaison to the airlines.”This is probably the most challenging snow-removal storm in the five years I’ve been here,” Elwood said. The storm began dumping snow under relatively high temperatures and then, after nearly 2 feet of accumulation, temperatures plummeted.”I’m not sure the last time it was 16 below in Aspen, but it’s not a usual occurrence,” Elwood said.The airport crew has treatments to help keep ice and snow from building up on the runway, but they’re less effective when the temperature drops below 15 degrees, he said.”I’m not sure they have any impact at 16 degrees below,” Elwood said.All nine flights in and out of the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport were canceled Tuesday, during the brunt of the storm. Poor visibility continued to halt air travel Wednesday until 6:30 p.m., when a United flight arrived from Denver. A Delta flight also came in from Salt Lake City on Wednesday evening, but a second jet due in from Denver had to turn around because of a mechanical problem.Despite Thursday’s delays, there wasn’t a lot of grumbling among the crowd of passengers packed into the gate area at the airport terminal early in the morning. Anyone who wound up stuck in Aspen/Snowmass was treated to a storm that left two feet of powder piled on the slopes.Starting today, air service into Aspen begins ramping up for the winter season. United will begin operating nine flights in and out of the resort, up from seven.Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.comThe Aspen Times, Aspen, Colo.

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