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Published: Monday, 12/27/2004

Comair struggles to get airborne

FROM BLADE STAFF AND WIRE REPORTS

A day after canceling all of its 1,100 flights across the country, Comair put some of its planes back in the air yesterday, but the resumption of service did not include any arrivals or departures at Toledo.

Delta Connection, which operates nine daily round trips between Toledo and Cincinnati under the Comair and Chautauqua Airlines names, scrapped all of its flights out of Toledo Express Airport for a second straight day, leaving hundreds of frustrated holiday travelers stranded. Others remained without luggage that was supposed to be carried on flights canceled over the last several days.

The Comair computer system that manages flight assignments crashed Friday night after it was overwhelmed by cancellations and delays caused by the winter storm that socked the Cincinnati area, where Comair is based. The computer shutdown forced the airline to cancel all of its Saturday flights.

Yesterday, Comair was operating 110 to 165 flights, which is 10 to 15 percent of its normal flight schedule, said Nick Miller, a spokesman for the Delta subsidiary. "We anticipate Comair will be able to operate on a full schedule by Wednesday," Mr. Miller said. "That is our goal."

Technicians were working on the computer system, he said.

At Toledo Express, dozens of subdued travelers waited in line for a half-hour or more yesterday afternoon to make other flight arrangements. "We're rebooking them with different airlines, mostly out of Detroit," said Geoffrey Stebbings, a Comair customer service employee.

They weren't happy, but most of the displaced passengers calmly accepted the news that they wouldn't be leaving Toledo until today, at the earliest.

"This is terrible," said Virgie Hillard of Columbus, Ind. "It's just making it so inconvenient for me."

Ms. Hillard flew to northwest Ohio last week to visit relatives for Christmas. The former Toledoan is planning to move back here and was supposed to fly out yesterday afternoon and be back in Indiana to help movers pack up her belongings this morning.

"I'm stuck in Toledo," she said, shaking her head. "There's nothing going out today."

Terry Murphy of Dallas, also in town to see family members, said the flight cancellations would force him to shorten a visit to his brother in Nashua, N.H. He was supposed to fly to the East Coast yesterday through Cincinnati.

"I don't even want to think about the things I'm missing," Mr. Murphy said. "It's so pretty outside; it's hard to imagine my flight is canceled."

Besides rebooking stranded passengers, Comair employees at Toledo Express tried to track down missing luggage for customers who arrived in northwest Ohio without all of their bags.

Linda Miller of Cedartown, Ga., arrived at Toledo Express yesterday afternoon, more than 24 hours late and missing one of two suitcases. Standing in line with her son, Geoff Milewski of Toledo, she glanced at the black bag on the floor next to her.

"I may have some underwear in there, but not much else," she said.

Once Ms. Miller reached the counter, an airline agent told her that her missing bag might arrive later in the day aboard an Atlantic Southeast Airlines flight from Atlanta.

Comair wasn't the only airline struggling with lost luggage. Some US Airways passengers were separated from their bags for a fourth-straight day because of canceled flights caused by bad weather and large numbers of flight attendants and baggage handlers calling in sick.



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