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Fairbanks airport swamped as windstorm diverts travelers

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Posted: Wednesday, September 5, 2012 11:37 am | Updated: 11:21 am, Mon Jan 21, 2013.

Updated 4:25 p.m.

FAIRBANKS - A flood of diverted flights filled Fairbanks International Airport with stranded passengers early this morning, swamping the facility with hundreds of unexpected overnight guests.

The travelers were aboard seven passenger jets that were rerouted from landing in Anchorage to avoid a late-night windstorm. The jets — four Alaska Airlines flights, as well as single flights from Delta, United and U.S. Airways — all landed between midnight and 1:30 this morning, said airport spokeswoman Angie Spear. A Northern Air Cargo jet also landed during that time.

At the peak, 740 unscheduled passengers were loaded into the airport, Spear said. To serve those customers, the upstairs restaurant and gift shop remained open past their regular hours. TSA workers also remained on duty all night, allowing travelers to move back and forth between the security area and other parts of the airport, Spear said.

“We were able to accommodate the passengers as best we could,” she said. “Obviously, being overnight at an airport is unusual.”

The Delta, United and U.S. Airways flights all departed at around 3 a.m., reducing much of the passenger backlog. But Alaska Airlines was still working to move its passengers this morning. Roughly 100 people were still stuck in Fairbanks at about 10 a.m., Spear said.

Alaska Airlines spokeswoman Marianne Lindsey said the airline’s crews had worked the maximum allowed number of hours under federal regulations once the diverted flights were included. Because of that, those crews were unable to resume the flights once the weather in Anchorage cleared.

“While the other airlines were able to put their crews on their planes in the middle of the night, we weren’t able to do that,” Lindsey said.

Three additional Alaska Airlines flights were added to the schedule today to move the stranded passengers, Lindsey said, with the last group flown out at about 3 p.m.

Spear said Fairbanks International Airport has received diverted jets many times before, most notably in 2009 when numerous flights were rerouted to avoid volcanic eruptions in Russia. But she couldn’t recall a time when so many jets piled up at such an odd hour.

“We got diversions, but not this many, this fast,” she said.

Contact staff writer Jeff Richardson at 459-7518.

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