From Cancun to cold cots: Stranded travelers stuck at Houston airports


by Doug Miller/ KHOU 11 News

Posted on March 20, 2012 at 1:22 PM

Updated Tuesday, Mar 20 at 6:18 PM

HOUSTON—Tammy Bridgewater started her week in Cancun, vacationing at a luxury hotel with three girlfriends, enjoying the crystal blue ocean water and cold drinks served by doting waiters. 

“What happened?” she asked Tuesday morning.  “We had an amazing vacation in Cancun.  And we ended up here!”

She ended up sleeping on a cot in the Terminal A baggage claim area of Bush Intercontinental Airport.  About 300 passengers were stuck on airlines diverted to Houston by nasty storms.  And about half of them spent the night trying to sleep on cots.  Many of them told tales of flying wide paths around the skies of Texas as pilots looked for routes around the bad weather.

“It’s really horrible,” Bridgewater said, huddling beneath a blanket as the airport public address system blared overhead.  “You can’t sleep.  It’s freezing cold.  It’s really horrible.”

A vending machine sitting a few feet away from her sat almost empty, cleaned out by hungry passengers stuck in the terminal.

“They had no food places open,” she said.  “Everybody raided the vending machines, so we couldn’t eat anything.” 

So many flights were stranded in Houston, aviation officials say flight controllers were ordered Tuesday morning to stop sending airliners into Houston until the backlog of flights cleared away. 

As heavy rains churned through the skies, flights occasionally poked through the clouds and escaped from Houston.  By mid-morning, the restrictions had been lifted, but long lines of stranded passengers still snaked around the American Airlines terminal.

“We sat on the tarmac for about two and a half hours last night,” said Ann Irvine, a Cancun vacationer trying to get home to Des Moines.  “Then they sent us back, trying to get to Dallas over Corpus and Laredo.  Then they sent us back here again.” 

Frustrated passengers complained that airline personnel should’ve done more to help them find hotel rooms.  In the end, authorities said an undetermined number of passengers slept on cots in the baggage claim area.

“I’m upset and I’m tired,” said Lisa Fischer, who was trying to get back to her home and her job in Corpus Christi.  “I mean, we’ve been on the go since yesterday, six o’clock from Miami to here.”

Meanwhile, Elissa Jackson lay on a cot, looking at Cancun vacation photos on her iPad.

“It was beautiful,” she said. 

But now, she doesn’t have a very high opinion of Houston.

“It sucks,” she said.  “I’m never coming back here.”