February 2, 2011 / 8:18 PM / 9 years ago

Historic blizzard wreaks havoc on air, ground travel

CHICAGO (Reuters Life!) - Kansas City businessman Greg Stewart expected to fly from California to home in one day on Monday. Instead, he flew from San Francisco to Los Angeles, then to Denver, then to Chicago, then back to Denver, and on Wednesday he had still not reached Kansas City.

A man sits in the bed of his stranded truck in Milwaukee, Wisconsin February 2, 2011. REUTERS/Darren Hauck

Along the way the airline lost his wife’s luggage, and Stewart slept on the floor of Chicago’s Midway airport under a television blaring news of the revolution in Egypt.

Normally unflappable, Stewart lost his temper when airline employees told him things he could prove were not true by looking at his smartphone.

“You can’t do anything about the weather. But these people kept lying to me and that’s what upset me,” he said in a telephone interview from Denver, where he was waiting for yet another flight to Kansas City.

The historic blizzard of 2011 brought transportation chaos that left virtually no corner of the nation untouched, from canceled flights and stranded airline passengers, to closed interstate highways, motorists trapped in their cars, and rail passengers stuck on the tracks for hours.

For the second straight day, major U.S. airlines canceled more than 5,000 flights on Wednesday, leaving thousands of passengers like Stewart scrambling to find alternate flights.

Some of those people were football fans trying to get to Dallas for the festivities leading up to the Super Bowl game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Dallas Cowboys on Sunday.

Steelers fan Kurt Ervin, a pastor at Central Christian Church in Las Vegas, was supposed to fly to Dallas on Tuesday. When his flight was canceled, he flew instead to Houston and on Wednesday was driving to Dallas with a friend.

The travel delay “will all be part of the memories when we look back on it,” Ervin said by telephone during a stop at a gas station.

In sunny Florida, stranded travelers were not exactly roughing it like their Midwest counterparts.

In West Palm Beach, Florida, Hyatt Place hotel desk manager Jonathan Rivera said bookings were up as travelers extended their stays at the hotel because of canceled flights.

“A lot of people don’t know when their flights will be,” he said, adding that the flip side was a number of airline pilots who usually stay at the hotel canceled reservations because they were grounded in the Midwest.

Amtrak officials urged passengers to check their train status before heading out on Wednesday. A number of trains going to or from Chicago were canceled because of the weather and availability of crews, according to an alert on the Amtrak website.

A train that was to leave on Wednesday for Los Angeles via Kansas City will not operate, nor will one bound for Emeryville, California, that was supposed to stop in Denver and Reno. A Chicago-St.Paul-Seattle/Portland train was also canceled, and a route between New Orleans and Chicago will operate only between New Orleans and Carbondale, according to Amtrak.

At Chicago’s Union Station, the main commuter train and Amtrak hub in the city, Victoria Clark pulled a small suitcase and sipped a McDonald’s coffee after a long night.

She boarded a train in the southern Illinois town of Alton, 25 miles north of St. Louis, on Tuesday afternoon expecting to arrive in Chicago before 9 p.m. local time. Instead, the train arrived at 3 a.m. on Wednesday and her husband was unable to pick her up because he was snowed in at their Chicago suburban home.

She was waiting for her son to get off duty as a Chicago firefighter later on Wednesday and give her a ride home. Despite the delays, she was in good spirits and taking it all in stride.

“Attitude under these circumstances is 99 percent of survival,” Clark said.

Additional reporting by Corrie MacLaggan and Suzanne Cosgrove; Editing by Jerry Norton

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