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Bad weather mangles holiday travel plans | Local News

Flocks of last-minute holiday travelers coming and going from San Francisco International Airport battled inclement weather, as stormy weather complicated the path for some hoping to be home for Christmas.

Airport spokesman Doug Yakel said dozens of flights from the county’s main travel gateway were cancelled late last week due to stormy weather, and hundreds of others faced delays — some as long as one hour.

Yet despite the fog and rain which intermittently loomed over the region, Yakel said travel rates have not dipped precipitously as the amount of airport visits is roughly the same as previous years.

“The weather hasn’t effected passenger traffic,” said Yakel. “The volumes are essentially on par with last holiday season.”

During each of the season’s peak travel days last Thursday, Dec. 20, and Friday, Dec. 21, Yakel said roughly 180,000 travelers flowed through the airport, a headcount about equivalent to the busiest days last year but up about 14,000 per day from 2016.

He said travel was expected to slow through Sunday, Dec. 23, but ticked up Christmas Eve and Christmas Day again with roughly 159,000 travelers anticipated to visit the airport — up about 9,000 people more than the airport’s average day. In all, Yakel said the airport expects to serve as many as 2 million travelers between late last week and New Year’s Day, Tuesday, Jan. 1.

With the rise in travelers came a few anxious moments at the airport recently, as a United Airlines flight headed for Washington, D.C., was forced to make an emergency landing due to mechanical issues Monday, Dec. 24.

The incident in which no one was injured came days after fumes from a concrete cutter sickened two plumbers and prompted a sizable emergency response. One of the men apparently was overcome by the exhaust fumes, and passed out. The other man dragged his co-worker to a seemingly safer space, and left the tunnel before he too passed out, an airport official said.

A subsequent search for the man in the tunnel last more than two hours, in a space near Gate Gourmet, which prepares meals for nearly 70 percent of the outbound flights. One of the men was taken to the hospital for examination.

As to be expected with dual arrival of the poor weather and influx of holiday travelers, Yakel said longer lines than usual tested the patience of some. But airport officials offered seasonal amenities such as live Christmas music, photo booths and therapy dogs in an attempt to ease the pain.

He said airport officials are hopeful the services “relieve a bit of the holiday travel stress.”

Meanwhile, he encouraged last-minute travelers to smooth their own travel path through reliance on mobile apps, which allow advance baggage check, boarding pass acquisition and more.

“Take advantage of automation,” said Yakel. “Do all the things you can before you even set foot in the airport.”

And in recognition of the poor weather, he encouraged travelers to download mobile apps from their airline of choice to stay current on their flight status and find whether it has been delayed.

He added fee services such as purchasing expedited security clearance from the Transportation Security Administration might cut down on the amount of time fliers are required to stand in line.

For those seeking an alternative to air travel during the holiday season, Amtrack is expecting to set ridership records — as the train service is on track to serve the more than the 830,000 national riders who took the rails between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Day last year.

And on the roads, California Highway Patrol officer David Morey said a focus for law enforcement through the holidays will remain cracking down on intoxicated drivers. To date, Morey said CHP’s Golden Gate division — which serves much of central San Mateo County along Highway 101 as well as Interstate 280 and State Route 92 — made 21 arrests for driving under the influence.

To avoid a ticket or arrest, which would likely take the joy out of the season, Morey encouraged those who are celebrating to excess to rely on ride-hailing services like Uber or Lyft, or the kindness of a sober friend or relative, rather than getting behind the wheel.

“It’s a much better option than driving intoxicated,” he said. “Even if you think you are on the bubble in terms of being able to drive or not, maybe just play it safe and find another option.”

With the recent legalization of marijuana and prevalence of prescription drug use, Morey noted that the threat of intoxicated driving spans beyond simply alcohol consumption.

Also nodding to the looming poor weather, Morey suggested those driving to be with loved ones for gifts or meals should plan for the trip to take longer than they would normally anticipate.

“Leave early,” he said. “Give yourself more time than you think you need, especially with the rain.”

For his part, Yakel shared a similar perspective and also encouraged visitors to remember that everyone is working toward the same goal of reaching their destination quickly and safely.

“Pack a little patience,” he said. “Do have some holiday cheer.”

austin@smdailyjournal.com

(650) 344-5200 ext. 105