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Weather woes

One of our Christmas gifts is stranded in Denver, along with 4,700-plus erstwhile airline passengers. Across the pond, holiday travelers in foggy London town found air travel there to be just as frustrating.

Mother Nature certainly has a wicked way of saying happy holidays!

We're hoping that since Colorado's snow has stopped, roads and runways will soon be cleared and our gift basket still might make it to our relatives in time for Christmas.

As for those folks who've been stuck at Denver International and London Heathrow, I definitely can sympathize. Just last week I was part of a similar weather-related standstill at Washington's National Airport.

When I got into the cab around noon to head to the airport following my week of Taxpayer Advocacy Panel meetings, I never suspected the hassle that awaited me and my fellow travelers.

Sure, everyone in D.C. had awoken last Thursday, Dec. 14, to pea soup-thick fog. But by late morning, it was burning off nicely. Unfortunately, those few foggy early morning hours were all it took to wreak havoc on the airlines.

Dragging my rolling suitcase behind me, laptop bag over one shoulder and purse on the other, I headed to the American Airlines check-in area. I like the self-service kiosks, but was told there was a problem with them, so I headed to check-in line. When I got to what I thought was the end, an airline employee told me that I merely had arrived at the break in the line created to keep the walkway clear.

The end was way, way, way, way back there.

I am not exaggerating in saying it was the longest line I've ever seen at an airport. And I wasn't the only person who felt that way. That phrase was continually repeated as stunned would-be passengers kept walking toward the end of the ever-lengthening line.

After 40 minutes in line, we finally learned that the morning's fog had forced cancellation of all earlier flights. The line was the product of folks looking for seats on any alternate flights. The gentleman behind me was trying to get to Miami, where he hoped he still could connect to his flight to Argentina. He was out of luck. All D.C. to Miami flights that day had been canceled.

I was lucky. My flight wasn't until 4 p.m. The self-service kiosks finally came back online and I got out of the queue full of increasingly frustrated folks seeking rebookings. And while my flight didn't actually depart until 5 p.m., I couldn't complain at all, considering what thousands of others were having to deal with.

Travel tips: A couple of weeks ago I talked with a travel agent, Deb Mangas with Menno Travel Service in Goshen, Ind. She gave me the usual pre-holiday travel spiel:

If possible, check-in from home by going online and printing out your boarding pass. Arrive earlier than you ever thought you should. Be prepared for delays. Take extra snacks. Bring book and toys for the children. Don't wrap your gifts, even those in your checked suitcases.

This piece of advice, however, is particularly timely. Mangas says that if you're bumped, ask the airline for a written policy. They won't offer it, she says, but will give it to you if you ask.

Also, according to Mangas, the Department  of Transportation requires the airlines to pay up to a maximum of $400 for denied boarding ... unless it's a weather delay. Then there's no mandated reimbursement level.

Still, in an effort to maintain at least some goodwill, most airlines will offer you a coupon for savings on a future flight. Many also will help out with food or hotel vouchers.

This story on travel cancellations is a bit dated, but it has some general issues to consider and links to major carriers and their refund policies.

Here's hoping you don't have to find out how your airline handles cancellations this holiday season or ever!

Foggy fields: Heathrow Airport is built on flat, grassy land, surrounded by reservoirs and canals, making it particularly vulnerable to fog. Similarly, Washington National is adjacent to the Potomac, which contributed greatly to the persistent, traffic-halting fog there last week.

I chatted with some folks who had arrived at National for early morning flights. From gate windows, they said, you couldn't even see the runways.

Lake_austin_fog_122107_0800_2 The river fog phenomenon is a fascinating one. In fact, just this morning here in Austin, we had the same situation. This photo is of the Colorado River, the dammed stretch of it known as Lake Austin that runs alongside our neighborhood, at 8 a.m. today. The shot is from our upstairs deck.

We've seen that heavy fog hanging over the river several times on cool mornings. But thankfully, it tends to stay along the river. And since the hubby and I work from home, we don't have to worry about getting out in it even on those few days when it strays across the river banks to local streets.


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