Thousands of passengers grounded at Reno airport
RENO – Thousands of passengers were grounded during a snowstorm at Reno-Tahoe International Airport on its busiest weekend of the year.
At nearby Lake Tahoe, the storm dumped up to 18 inches of snow and delayed thousands of Thanksgiving holiday motorists heading over mountain passes.
Sixty-nine flights at the airport – 41 departures and 28 arrivals – were either canceled or delayed during a seven-hour period Saturday after a malfunction in equipment used to guide pilots when visibility is poor, spokesman Brian Kulpin said.
The instrument landing system is maintained and operated by the Federal Aviation Administration, which fixed the problem after the storm had left up to 6 inches of snow in Reno.
The equipment was repaired by about 12:30 p.m. but the backup meant delays continued, said Trish Tucker, an airport spokeswoman. She did not have any details late Saturday of how many passengers still were grounded or the length of the delays.
Travelers were urged to contact their airlines before heading to the airport, she said.
Kulpin said affected passengers might not be able to get a seat on a flight from Reno until Tuesday because flights are booked solid today and Monday.
The Sunday after Thanksgiving traditionally is the airport’s busiest day of the year, with about 10,000 passengers using the facility. The Saturday after the holiday is among its top ten days.
“This was a devastating occurrence,” Kulpin said. “This has such a ripple effect throughout the system. It has impacts on other airports because there are people stranded at other airports.”
Kulpin said it’s the second time the system has malfunctioned during a storm this month and airport officials are livid the problem occurred again.
“This is an awful way to treat the flying public and it’s all because of the FAA,” he said. “Think of the number of families affected on the busiest travel weekend of the year.”
FAA spokesman Allen Kenitzer in Seattle said a combination of bad weather and equipment failure caused the FAA to suspend flights in and out of the airport.