The blizzard that walloped Washington, D.C., this weekend also triggered a blast 6,000 miles away in Copenhagen.
Many who attended the climate summit in Denmark found themselves marooned in that capital city after the record snowfall in the District of Columbia caused a slew of airline cancellations. Conference refugees today camped out at the Copenhagen airport, sharing information about flight options and hoping to snag return trips to the D.C. region.
"Along with a dozen [plus] enviro colleagues and reporters, I am in a hours long line to re-book my flight somewhere in America," John Anthony, U.N. Foundation communications director for energy and climate, posted on Facebook.
Anthony's frustration led him to create a Facebook group he called "Nopenhagen," where he asked people to share their "exit nightmares."
No seats are available on direct flights from Copenhagen to Dulles Airport until Dec. 26, Anthony said, an option that would mean "Christmas would officially need to be cancelled."
Eliminated flights affected Senate aides and workers with Environmental Defense Fund, World Wildlife Federation, BNA, Sierra Club, Union of Concerned Scientists, Pew Environment Group and a host of other organizations, according to those leaving the conference. Exhausted after spending as much as two weeks at the conference, they began trying to check in Saturday for return flights only to learn those flights had been canceled.
With holiday travel and many flights already booked to capacity, rebooking turned into a quest to find a seat on any plane headed to the northeastern United States. People waited eight hours or more in line, debating whether to fly to Boston, New York or New Jersey with the hopes of somehow then getting home.
"Still standing in line and after [I] talk with travel agent I may be able to get to Newark tomorrow," Matt Banks, senior program officer with World Wildlife Federation, wrote in an e-mail while waiting today at the Stockholm airport at about 11 a.m. Stockholm time. He had been there since 5 a.m. after learning his flight was canceled. Banks had been in Copenhagen for events around the climate conference, then traveled to Stockholm to visit friends.
"Definitely frustrated, but going with the flow as much as I can at this point," said Banks, who has Christmas plans and needs to make it back to Washington, D.C., to catch another flight Wednesday.
Chelsea Henderson Maxwell, partner at environmental consultants Clark Group LLC and former climate adviser to Sen. John Warner (R-Va.), spent part of two days at the airport before getting a seat on a flight home.
Maxwell was supposed to leave Copenhagen on Saturday and got to sleep at 2 a.m. An hour later she received an e-mail telling her that her flight to Dulles Airport had been canceled. After 90 minutes on the phone with Orbitz.com, where she had originally booked her ticket, she headed to the airport, where she said agents for two airlines argued about who was responsible for rebooking her flight. She finally was given a ticket, but that flight a day later was canceled.
Maxwell returned to the airport, where she spent eight hours in line before getting a seat on a flight Tuesday from Copenhagen to Washington, via London and New York.
"I was one of the lucky ones," Maxwell said, noting that she knows people who must fly to Newark, N.J., then take a train to LaGuardia Airport in New York to fly to Washington.
Giselle Barry, a spokeswoman with Alliance for Climate Protection, is one of those with a more circuitous route home.
She originally planned to leave Copenhagen on Saturday morning, then learned her flight back to Dulles Airport had been canceled. After spending nearly five hours on hold on the telephone with Expedia.com, she went to the airport and waited another three hours before receiving a seat on a flight today to New York.
After landing in New York, she said, she will carry her three bags to Penn Station. Since all trains into Washington were booked, she will take the 8:30 p.m. bus to Washington, arriving at 1 a.m. Tuesday morning.
"Truly planes, trains and automobiles," Barry said.
Flights booked through Christmas
When Barry today asked again about a direct D.C. flight, she heard how grim the situation is for travelers.
"The woman helping me sort of smiled, looked at her co-worker at the station next to her and said, 'My colleague has been looking for over two hours for one passenger trying to get in to Washington,'" Barry said. "'There is nothing before Christmas. She spent three hours looking yesterday for the same person.'
"I'm very glad to be getting on any flight back to the states," Barry said.
Those standing in line at the airport became fast friends, trading stories, taking turns going for food, watching each other's bags and observing the airport scene. Maxwell and her friends played hearts and gin rummy with American college students they met in line. They surfed the Internet while waiting, looking for alternative flights. One person bought an entire new flight online and left, she said.
Some became frustrated with the situation, Banks said.
"We've seen a few mild tantrums," he said.
And then there were those who escaped. Tony Kreindler, Environmental Defense Fund's national media director for climate, said he got lucky and got out early.
"Having gotten used to not sleeping at all in Copenhagen, I was awake before the panicked masses snagged the few remaining seats," Kreindler said in an e-mail. He said he originally had a direct flight back to Washington. When he could not get through Sunday on the phone to SAS Airlines to confirm that flight, he reached a travel agent in the United States who advised him to "abandon the ticket and get to Heathrow as soon as possible, or spend Christmas in Denmark."
"So here I am at Heathrow," Kreindler said in an e-mail this morning. "If my luck holds up I'll be back today."