Passengers wait up to five hours in post-Olympic airport crush
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Crowds of Olympic tourists trying to get home spilled out onto the sidewalks Monday and gave the Salt Lake International Airport its busiest day ever.
Some waited for up to five hours — parts of it outside in near-freezing weather.
Airport employees and volunteers did their best to distract irritated, bored passengers by providing free bottled water, gold medal-shaped chocolate candies and books of poetry. Bands of roving singers in costumes entertained those twiddling their thumbs.
The general manager of American Airlines, Harry Bicchieri, looked at the United line and said, “Oh, that one — that’s two days long.” American, with fewer flights, had shorter lines.
Graham Richardson, 37, a member of British bobsled team support staff, had been snaking toward the Delta Air Lines counter for 3 1/2 hours. He was about to miss his flight home to Great Britain but appeared unconcerned: “As long as I make it by half-past seven tomorrow to read my children a bedtime story, I’ll be happy.”
Reading the free book of poetry, Richardson stopped at a passage entitled, “To an athlete dying young,” and added the phrase “of boredom at the airport.”
The airlines have the capacity to handle about 74,000 passengers taking off and landing each day, said Barbara Gann, airport spokeswoman. On Monday, numbers were expected to exceeded that amount, but Gann did not know by how much.
The long wait was the product of nearly every passenger needing to wait in line to check baggage, said Tim Campbell, the airport’s executive director. The airport’s typical traffic load includes about 40 percent connecting passengers — people from smaller cities such as Boise who do not go through a check-in line in Salt Lake City.
But the day after the Winter Olympics ended, everyone seemed to originate in Salt Lake, and the resulting lines seemed interminable.
Heading home to Fort Myers, Fla., Kathy Galloway had not prepared to wait outside. Wearing a leather jacket and the now-famous blue beret wore by the U.S. Olympic team, she said she had been shivering in line for an hour and a half. She and her daughter were taking turns — one would pop inside to warm up while the other held the place in line.
“I would be fine if I had warmer clothes,” she said. “But I’m going home to Florida and didn’t think I’d have to wait out here.”