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Weekend chaos easing at airports

Safe to say, it was the weekend from hell if you were stuck in an airport. Not just at Philadelphia International Airport, where a record 23.2 inches of snow fell, but also at airports up and down the East Coast shut down by the storm.

Safe to say, it was the weekend from hell if you were stuck in an airport.

Not just at Philadelphia International Airport, where a record 23.2 inches of snow fell, but also at airports up and down the East Coast shut down by the storm.

Philadelphia International was working its way back to normal yesterday, as the sun shone and temperatures climbed above freezing. Though there were some flight delays and cancellations, lines at the ticket counters and security check-in looked pretty normal for a busy holiday-travel week.

But some beleaguered travelers remained. Their flights had been canceled Saturday and Sunday, and they were still scrambling to get to their destinations.

Take college student Avi Jacobson, who took a noon Saturday US Airways flight from West Palm Beach, Fla., to Philadelphia to connect to a flight to Syracuse, N.Y., to spend time with his family.

"And I have been stuck here ever since," said the 19-year-old, who had a ticket for a 7 p.m. flight last night. "If I had driven to New York, I would already be there."

Airport officials said 1,300 passengers slept there overnight Saturday, with about 750 spending the night Sunday.

Staff handed out 1,300 blankets, 1,300 pillows, 1,000 bottles of water, and 750 snack packs to waiting passengers. Several vendors stayed open throughout the night, both nights.

Airlines operated at least 95 percent of their normal flights yesterday, the airport said.

Yet there were tales of canceled trips. Sometimes, trips canceled many times.

Brittany Ratka, 19, a college student in Scottsdale, Ariz., arrived in Philadelphia at 11 a.m. Sunday on a US Airways flight from Phoenix. She was headed for Buffalo. After eight flight cancellations, she was hoping to get on a plane at 3 p.m. yesterday.

"My flight to Buffalo was canceled six times Sunday," Ratka said. "Then this morning, it was canceled again twice - so, eight times. I slept on the floor in Terminal F."

US Airways, which operates two-thirds of flights in Philadelphia, canceled 31 out of 400 daily flights yesterday. Departures were delayed an average 10 to 20 minutes, said spokesman Morgan Durrant.

Southwest Airlines Co., Philadelphia's second-busiest carrier, said it did not anticipate canceling any of its 53 flights yesterday.

"We are experiencing delays, not huge ones," said Philadelphia station manager John Minor. "Working conditions are very difficult right now with the ice on the ramp and around the airplanes. What would normally take 30 to 40 minutes to turn an airplane is taking longer. It's very slippery out there."

Southwest canceled 40 flights on Saturday, and 28 on Sunday. Passengers on canceled flights were scrambling to get on whatever flight they could.

"We are booked to the max, every flight," the Southwest station manager said.

US Airways said it probably had to cancel some flights because of FAA-imposed rules that govern crew schedules - how many hours flight crews can work without resting.

"I'm sure we did incur some cancellations because of crews," Durrant said.

"There is a prescribed duty time that a flight crew can be on active duty without having certain rest in between," he said. "That's a function of the weather, as well. Philadelphia and Washington National were shut down for most of Saturday afternoon. That puts both airplanes and crews out of position."

Chris Hoffmann, 21, was booked on a Delta Air Lines flight to Salt Lake City from Baltimore Friday night when Delta canceled the flight because of weather. The airline advised the U.S. Naval Academy student to take a train to Philadelphia and catch a flight to Utah from there.

"I caught a train to Philadelphia on Saturday. Then that flight was canceled because of the blizzard. I came Sunday to the airport, and that flight was canceled, so here I am," he said.

Because the next available nonstop to Salt Lake City was not until Christmas Day, Hoffmann, who wants to be a Navy pilot, said he was flying last night to Louisville, Ky., then to Cincinnati, Ohio, and finally to Salt Lake City today.

Three Spaniards - Jose Manuel, Jose Ramon, and Pablo Martinez - originally were booked Saturday from Tampa to Philadelphia, then home to Madrid on US Airways.

But their flight to Philadelphia was diverted to Charlotte, N.C., because of the snowstorm. They were stranded one night in Charlotte and flew Sunday to Philadelphia, but US Airways' daily Madrid flight is full until Christmas Eve.

So the trio, members of the Spanish Air Force, flew last night to New York and were booked on a midnight flight on Air Europa home to Madrid.

With all the flight delays and cancellations came misplaced bags. Yesterday, a line snaked out the US Airways baggage-service office in the B-C bag-claim area.

"My bag is missing," said Jamie Wagner, 24, of Coopersburg, near Allentown. "I've been in Fort Lauderdale since Saturday, trying to get home. Four flights were canceled. I do not know where my bag is currently."

Matt Riedel, 20, a sophomore at the University of Colorado, made it home to see his family in Radnor, but without his suitcase. His flight from Denver to Philadelphia was diverted to Pittsburgh Friday because of the weather, and he had to rebook.

"I'm pretty sure my bag is in Pittsburgh. That's what I'm here to find out."