Stranded fliers face choice: Pay as you go, or go home
Foreign airlines don't want their planes sitting idle
Thursday, September 13, 2001
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Ruby Trotter looked forward to visiting her friend of 50 years in San Francisco, but now she must return home, to London, England without seeing her.
Trotter was one of 1,200 passengers diverted to Edmonton on Tuesday because of the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.C.
She had been on a British Airways flight from London's Heathrow airport bound for San Francisco. But in a bizarre twist, Trotter and most of the other passengers, including many from the United States, returned to London Wednesday evening even though American skies were reopened for air travel earlier in the day.
Trotter said the airline offered to put passengers up in London but wouldn't pay for another day in Edmonton and a subsequent flight to San Francisco on another airline.
"My friend was very upset I'm going back to London," Trotter said in an interview. "I planned for a whole year to see her and she is not in good health."
No one from British Airways could be reached for comment Wednesday.
But Don Gibson, owner of Uniglobe Geo Travel in Edmonton, speculated that British Airways wanted to get all its airplanes back on schedule.
If the British Airways flight continued on to San Francisco, Gibson said the plane may have difficulty getting back out.
"They could virtually be in a lineup to simply get it cleaned," he said. "Having a plane on the ground is a very expensive commodity."
Trotter was sitting with a group of Americans bound for San Francisco who also decided to go to London rather than face more uncertainty about when they could get home from Edmonton.
"If we stay here on our own we have to pay for it as well as a flight from here to San Francisco," said Mercedes Dalrymple, who had just finished a riverboat trip in France with three blind Americans.
Kurt Ambuehl, of San Francisco, said he was heading back to London because he couldn't afford to get back on his own.
He calculated it would cost him more than $1,000 to rent a car to drive south. "It's crazy," he said.
Edmonton International was quiet for most of the day Wednesday, a contrast to the usual 10,000 passengers a day it usually receives. Some people waited in hopes they could get a flight out but by mid-afternoon, most had left the airport.
Cristina Stolarchuk and Mike Fahr played double solitaire as they waited to see if their WestJet flight would leave for their home in Nanaimo, B.C.
They were in Edmonton visiting Fahr's sister and were supposed to leave Tuesday night. Fahr said the terrorist attacks were shocking but he wasn't overly surprised.
"It was just a matter of time before they found a glitch in superforce America," Fahr said.
"I'm just happy to be Canadian," Stolarchuk said.
Doreen Mullen, of Dublin, Ireland, had been visiting her niece Anne Murphy and husband Mike of Drayton Valley.
"I've had an absolutely superb time here and there's no problem going home later," Mullen said. "My husband won't mind. He will want me to be safe.
"My plight is nothing compared to the unfortunates who lost their lives. It's unbelievable what some people will do."
Bill Strauss of San Francisco said he was impressed with the professionalism of Canadian authorities and with the hospitality he had received.
"When you put everything in perspective, there are so many people that had devastation brought upon them that this is a minor inconvenience," Strauss said.