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Snow puts damper on destination wedding, adds to travel woes

Melanie Over and Josh Rosella had been planning this day for over a year. Only their plan was to be spending it on a Jamaican beach, getting ready for their wedding, not sweating it out at the airport with most of their wedding party and guests, stuck in snowy Baltimore.

"We were supposed to get married Saturday, and our flight was supposed to be this morning at 9:30, but it was delayed and eventually canceled," said a disappointed Rosella, sitting Thursday on a luggage cart alongside his equally disappointed bride-to-be at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport. "There are no open flights until Monday; we are on standby for a flight tomorrow that is fully booked — and there are 31 of us flying down there. So the way it's looking now, we will probably miss out on our wedding."

Across the region, travelers stuck in hotels and at the airport alternately despaired, rescheduled plans and tried to make the best of the snowy situation, as staff scrambled to accommodate them and get them back on their way.

Most airlines canceled flights to BWI on Thursday, despite a snow-removal team of about 200 people and 75 pieces of equipment working to keep the tarmac clear, airport spokesman Jonathan Dean said.

"The airport team did an outstanding job," Dean said. "We were all hands on deck, and our airport personnel responded."

Still, he recommended that fliers check with their airlines and plan for delays and cancellations Friday.

At BWI on Thursday afternoon, frustrated travelers were scattered about the departure area, nursing drinks or snacks while talking into their cellphones or staring dejectedly at their laptop screens, trying to figure out some way to continue their trips. But ask how badly the day was going for them, and the same reply kept coming back, over and over.

"Have you talked to the wedding party over there?"

Rosella, 28, and Over, 29, had driven from Altoona, Pa., with friends on Wednesday night. On Thursday, despair was setting in.

"I'm feeling very disappointed, very upset, angry," said Over. "We feel like we are letting down all the people who gave up all their days off, their time, their money, to come spend this special day with us. I feel like we are letting them down as well."

By late afternoon, the prospective couple and her mother were booked on a flight scheduled for Friday morning.

"We've got three seats," Rosella said. "Now we're just hoping for 28 more."

Veera Phillips was supposed to be on her way to a convention in Arizona, where she'd planned to mix a little vacation with her business. But on Thursday afternoon she was planted in a chair at BWI, where she had arrived at 5 a.m., hoping for a call that might salvage what was turning into a pretty dismal day.

Her 8 a.m. flight had been rescheduled for 3 p.m., then canceled, and the earliest she could be rebooked was Sunday.

"If I don't get there until Sunday, it'll be just for work," Phillips said. "And that'll put a damper on everything."

But she stayed determinedly upbeat.

"The first flight out, I'm going to be on it," she said with a smile. "They're gonna call me up, put me on baggage claim, whatever. They're going to do something, and I'm going to be ready."

Tammi and Christopher Stewart of Warwick, R.I., were in a fix, too, over their trip to Playa del Carmen. When their flight from Rhode Island to Baltimore was canceled, the connecting flight to Mexico was still scheduled. So they and daughter Sofia, 9, drove a rental overnight Wednesday, arriving at a hotel at 2 a.m. By the time they got to BWI at 5 a.m., that flight had been canceled, too.

Tammi Stewart worked the phone Thursday to rebook their hotel in Mexico, and by that evening, they had a flight out Friday morning. At least, they were hopeful that they could get out in the morning, Christopher Stewart said.

"Hopefully. With this crazy freezing rain/sleet thing going on, [we're] wondering if that's ever going to happen," he said. Still, they refused to get too down. "It's February. This is the type of thing that happens. We always try to get travel protection.

"We're rolling with it."

In downtown Baltimore, that was exactly what Lester and Susan Warner were doing. They came to Baltimore this week from Stephens City, Va., for their 20th wedding anniversary. The pair hoped to spend Thursday walking around the Inner Harbor and checking out the National Aquarium.

The snow had other plans: Nothing was open, and the roads were treacherous. The Warners found themselves among the more than two dozen guests at the Best Western Plus Envy Hotel — and hundreds around the city — stuck in a hotel.

Michael Petty, the front-desk attendant, had spent Wednesday night at the hotel and was hoping to get off his shift and back home by 7 p.m. Thursday.

"He's lying," Susan Warner cut in with a laugh. "He wants to be here for the Best Western party tonight."

"We've become a family," she added. "We talk to each other about what's open, where to find food."

One couple bought bottles of wine to share, and a few guests were planning to find flowers and chocolate for a Valentine's Day likely to be spent inside.

"When life gives you snow, have fun," Susan Warner said.

Ted Fleurimond, general manager at the Springhill Suites Marriott on East Redwood Street, said that of 99 rooms, some 25 to 30 were occupied Thursday evening by people who had extended their stays because of weather. He said the Marriott had lowered prices and was working with customers who needed to rearrange plans.

"The weather's terrible," he said. "We want to accommodate them."

Hotels such as the Hampton Inn Suites, Quality Inn Downtown, Embassy Suites and Renaissance Baltimore Harborpoint Hotel housed tourists as well as dozens of guests who work in the city or are emergency staff at area hospitals, hotel representatives said.

To keep the Renaissance open in bad weather, anywhere from 40 to 60 employees stay at the hotel. Most of the hotels have similar policies.

"If we close, it's a really bad situation," general manager Terry Donahue said, adding that the New Jersey Marriott he previously worked at operated through Hurricane Sandy.

"Malls close; restaurants have the option to close. Hotels never close," he said. "It has to be a tragic event way worse than a snowstorm."

chris.kaltenbach@baltsun.com

cmcampbell@baltsun.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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