Winter storm diverts 14 flights from Anchorage; some passengers spend night in Kenai airport

Devin Kelly

Fourteen flights were diverted from Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport by the winter storm that hit Anchorage on Friday night, airport officials said, and passengers on one flight ended up spending the night at the Kenai airport.

A blend of wind, turbulence and low visibility created a set of rough landing conditions in Anchorage, said airport operations manager Tim Lufkin.

"It was kind of an ugly weather night," Lufkin said.

Thirteen of the flights, which included Alaska Airlines and Delta Airlines planes, were diverted to Fairbanks International Airport to wait out the storm, he said.

One flight, United Airlines Flight 1425 from Chicago, went to Kenai Municipal Airport, where passengers ultimately ended up spending the night. An online United flight tracker lists the Boeing 737-800 aircraft departing Chicago at 3:08 p.m. CST on Friday and landing in Kenai at 6:28 p.m.; a new flight, Flight 1763, was scheduled to leave Kenai at noon Saturday and land in Anchorage at 1:35 p.m.

But the new flight didn't leave until 1:54 p.m., the flight tracker shows, and the passengers finally touched down in Anchorage at 2:35 p.m. on Saturday.

Anchorage resident Joseph Dobrzynski, 42, was one of 110 passengers on the Flight 1425. In a phone interview from the Kenai airport, Dobrzynski said the flight crew circled Stevens International for about 15 minutes before telling passengers that the plane needed to refuel in Kenai.

After landing in Kenai, passengers sat and waited on the plane for about 4½ hours, he said.

Then the announcement came that the flight crew had reached the federal limit for flying time, prompting an overnight stay. Passengers were told that United would book them accommodations for the night, Dobrzynski said.

Dobrzynski collected his carry-on baggage and got off the flight but said that no hotel rooms or cabs were waiting.

"Everybody picked a spot on the carpet," Dobrzynski said. He said he wound up catching a few hours of sleep on the carpet near a conveyor at the baggage claim.

Staff from another airline went out to Wal-Mart and brought back pillows, blankets and diapers for young families, Dobrzynski said. One group of people split the cost of a $300 cab to Anchorage.

"People were not happy," said Dobrzynski, who was returning home from a business trip in Chicago.

In a statement, United said it had made an effort to accommodate customers.

"Flight 1425 diverted to Kenai Municipal Airport due to a snowstorm in Anchorage. Refueling and deicing the aircraft could not be completed before the crew exceeded their legally permitted duty hours," the statement said. "We provided meals to all customers and overnight hotel accommodations to as many customers as Kenai had rooms available. We regret any inconvenience our customers experienced."

Reach Devin Kelly at dkelly@adn.com or 257-4314.


By DEVIN KELLY
dkelly@adn.com