''This is the most ridiculous thing I've ever seen in my life, and people wouldn't believe me if I didn't take the picture,'' said De Clippeleir, who had measured her own progress at an American Airlines check-in line at 11 yards in 25 minutes.
De Clippeleir was among thousands of frustrated passengers Friday at MIA, suffering the after-effects from Thursday's thunderstorms. The combination of weather, the scheduled departure of cruises, and spring breaks for college and South Florida public-school students led to the passenger logjam. Fort Lauderdale also had a busy -- if not so frenetic -- day at the airport.
''You're in the middle of peak season for Florida traffic, which makes it extremely difficult when a weather event like that occurs,'' said Brian Steeval, an aviation consultant at the Boyd Group. ''One single event can have a ripple effect for several days.''
This time, though, the worst is over. An airport spokeswoman said today's traffic would be more normal.
35 FLIGHTS KILLED
Between Thursday and Friday, however, Miami passengers had seen 35 flights canceled and a slew of delays, said Gregory Chin, an airport spokesman. American Airlines, MIA's largest carrier, had to reroute 11 planes Thursday night to airports like West Palm Beach and Fort Myers to wait out the storms that swept through at dusk. A Martin Air flight bound to Miami from Costa Rica was diverted to Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.
Stormy weather caused similar delays in Fort Lauderdale, but Friday crowds were merely large, not overwhelming, said airport spokesman Jim Reynolds.
The crush of morning passengers traveling domestically at MIA thinned as the day progressed, but by 3 p.m. overseas travelers had to wait in a line that stretched the length of four concourses.
''I fly a lot, and I've never seen anything like this,'' said Mary Turel, who was bound for Peru.
American Airlines reported 44 delays Friday, but crowded planes got a lot of the blame.
''You can attribute most of the long lines to the high load factors, which were somewhat compounded by the weather delays from last night rolling into today,'' said Tim Wagner, a spokesman for American. He also attributed delays to stepped-up security and some planes needing mechanical repairs.
Another simple explanation: More people are flying.
Air traffic has been up close to 10 percent in the first two months of the year, Steeval said.
''We're seeing some very high load factors, some reaching close to 80 percent, so that when there is a disturbance there is not a way to reaccommodate people,'' he said.
NOT LIKE HOLIDAYS
Crowds on Friday were nowhere near the size of those seen during Christmas and Thanksgiving, typically the year's peak travel times. And the problems were nowhere close to those of the past holiday season.
The combination of heavy snowfall and a large number of employees calling in sick led to huge problems at US Airways. Comair, a regional carrier for Delta, had a huge number of its flights canceled Christmas weekend.
This was little consolation to passengers.
An incredulous Kevin Brown walked two concourses as he searched for the end of the line before giving up and deciding to go home.
''There's no way I'm gonna make my flight,'' he said, an hour and 10 minutes before departure.
Airline workers paced between Concourses A, C and D asking for passengers whose flights were nearing departure to step -- or trek -- to the front of the line.
Thomas Garcia, who was dead last in line as he waited to catch a flight to the Dominican Republic, wasn't worried.
''They have to get people on those planes; otherwise, they don't get any business,'' he said.