Katrina Causes Few Hiccups With Airport Operations

ATLANTA -- Sitting back in the world's busiest airport, Emelda Kador was thinking of spending Labor Day with her nieces and nephews at a New Orleans waterpark. The Labor Day trip has been a five-year tradition for the 52-year-old and her family.

But because of Hurricane Katrina, Kador had to settle for daydreams of the trip Monday while spending the day in the atrium of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

"I was going to go to New Orleans for Labor Day weekend, but now my Labor Day plans are canceled," said Kador, who was passing her time in the airport napping with the local newspaper and its headline "Katrina Storms Ashore" over her head.

Like Kador, hundreds of people have been forced to make travel changes in the week before the busy Labor Day holiday weekend. Monday, airline departure boards at the Atlanta airport were full of canceled midmorning flights across the South, mainly to Louisiana, Alabama and Florida. But even flights to other areas, such as Indianapolis or Charlotte, N.C., were canceled.

Yet despite the cancellations, the effects of the hurricane weren't seen in the airport or nearby hotels. Normally both are full of stranded passengers seeking shelter and a way out of Georgia.

"Usually we get a flood of calls and we haven't yet," said Jennifer Eberhart, front desk associate of the Atlanta Airport Marriott.

Airlines prepared for the hurricane well in advance and the Atlanta airport is used to dealing with problems that bad weather can bring, said Felicia Browder, airport spokeswoman. "We're used to operating up at such a high level on a regular basis that our contingency plans tend to work out well when there is a situation" such as the hurricane, she said.

Smaller airports in the area, such as Pensacola Regional Airport in Pensacola, Fla., closed Monday because of weather conditions and had no immediate plans to reopen, officials said. Airports were also closed in Baton Rouge, La.; Biloxi, Miss.; Mobile, Ala. and at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida and many air traffic control facilities in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama were shuttered.

At Dallas Fort Worth/International Airport, about 30 flights were canceled a day ahead of the storm, said David Magana, manager of public affairs. The last flight to New Orleans left at 11 a.m. Sunday.

By noon Monday, 36 flights had been canceled, Magana said, but added there were no stranded passengers at the airport.

"Airlines are really good when hurricanes come up," he said. "They're really good scheduling around them. They give people plenty of notice."

For those caught unaware, waiting out the storm was difficult. Adam Struletz, a first-year law student at Loyola University in New Orleans came up to Georgia for a wedding Saturday and had planned to fly out Monday. But the 23-year-old's flight on Delta Air Lines was canceled and he didn't yet know when he would be able to return home.

To make it worse, Struletz doesn't know whether his apartment will be OK - all of his friends had long ago evacuated from New Orleans. And his car is still in a parking deck in New Orleans International Airport at the tune of $10 a day.

"I'm definitely anxious to know what's going on," he said from his parents' home in Atlanta. "I'm kind of sitting around waiting around to hear any kind of word on whether or not my apartment is going to be safe."