Denver blizzard strands flights, passengers at SFO

Dave Wickersheim, 20, was fervently trying to get his friends home to Minneapolis on Thursday in time for Christmas.

Wickersheim, of Wisconsin, was stranded at SFO all day with 20 fellow Northwestern College students, along with scores of other would-be passengers whose pre-holiday flights were canceledand dreams of family visits were shot due to storms in the Denver area.

The students, who had been studying throughout Asia since October, were sprawled across seats, piling on top of each other like suitcases, while Wickersheim coordinated rerouted flights and cross-county bus trips for his group. “We’re hoping to get home by Christmas,” he said. “I’m going to miss my graduation on Saturday,’’ said fellow traveler Rachel Johnson, 23.

Frontier Airlines, based in Denver, was hit particularly hard when a blizzard shut down its hub, spokesman Joe Hodas said. Some 550 flights in and out of Denver had been canceled nationwide, representing approximately 40,000 people, as of Thursday. “By noon [Wednesday], our operations were basically done,” Hodas said.

United Airlines canceled 2,000 flights systemwide, with a large majority of those flights scheduled to depart or arrive in Denver, spokesman Jeff Kovick said. “This is having a significant impact on our operations and we’re using all the resources we can,” he said.

At SFO, the line at Frontier’s check-in turned like a snake, as stranded passengers slept, listened to earphones and made friends.

Blake Mills, 31, of San Francisco, had hoped to get to his family in Denver by the holiday. “They told me the next flight out is Tuesday,’’ he said, lamenting a missed chance to meet his newborn nephew forthe first time on Christmas. “But people are rolling with the punches,’’ he added.

Zak McCamey, 40, was still trying to get back home to Cleveland on Frontier from a visit in San Francisco after waiting more than two and a half hours. “Next time I’m taking Amtrak,” he said.

Pre-holiday travel was otherwise fairly light at SFO on Thursday. Security lines were not nearly as packed as baggage check-ins Thursday afternoon. “It’s not really busy here — because of the canceled flights to Denver,” said 39-year-old Lazaro Jaime, of Millbrae, a security line customer service representative.

National Weather Service meteorologist Mike Delman said the storm system causing the blizzard, which dumped between 22 and 36 inches of snow in Denver, should move out of there by sometime today. The same storm system is expected to hit the entire East Coast, but will likely leave the region on Christmas Eve, Delman said.

Another storm system will be affecting West Coast dwellers as well, likely making for a rainy Christmas Day, Delman said.

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