Greenland bound, but still in town

The Baltimore Sun

They wanted spectacular mountains in a cool climate. They got the airport Hilton during one of Baltimore's most sweltering stretches.

About 20 people have been holed up since Monday in rooms paid for by Air Greenland, which canceled their flight to Kangerlussuaq on the country's western border for mechanical reasons and didn't have another scheduled until today.

They are among the latest victims of the summer travel season that has produced some record delays and cancellations and an untold number of passengers who couldn't readily rebook because planes are sold out or, in Air Greenland's case, not offered every day. Northwest Airlines has canceled hundreds of flights recently because of a pilot shortage, and many other carriers have gotten off schedule because of bad weather.

But many in this group refuse to be another travel tale of woe. They went to a mall to buy tank tops - they had packed for Greenland ice caps not Baltimore snowballs. They also took a Maryland Rail Commuter service train to the nation's capital Tuesday and the light rail to the National Aquarium in Baltimore yesterday.

The seven - about half Americans and half Greenlanders - have become fast friends.

"We wanted to go to Greenland to meet new people and learn about another culture, and turns out, we're doing that here," said Sonia Rivera, 35, a middle school teacher from New York, while standing in front of the aquarium.

The good humor doesn't mean that the delay has come without cost.

Rivera will miss three of her seven days' vacation in Greenland because she has to come back for an important meeting. Two passengers said they were missing their first day of work, and a Greenland official is missing government business.

Still, they said they are enjoying their time at "Camp Hilton," as Mike Villadsen put it. She's a 26-year-old student in Greenland who has gotten to know several people from her hometown of Nuuk while stranded in Baltimore. She had Qupanuk Lund Olsen, 11, in tow yesterday, though she had just met her Monday.

The girl wanted to see the dolphins, but her grandparents with whom she had been vacationing decided to stay behind.

Villadsen, who knew Qupanuk's uncle back home, promised to take good care of her.

Seeing the White House was an unexpected thrill for Inuk Moeller, 22, a Greenlander who had been visiting a family he had lived with in Houston during an exchange program. He had planned to start, of all things, mechanics training in Denmark for Air Greenland this week.

He and his friend Lena Olsen, 23, who missed the start to a project in social work back home, thought extending their American vacation on Air Greenland's dime was just fine.

Air Greenland, which began service at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport in May, hopes this flight cancellation doesn't deter other travelers. It's the airline's first U.S. destination, and this is the first flight that had been canceled.

Fraser Teasdale, Air Greenland's passenger sales manager for the United States, said the airline had contracted with ATA Airlines for the plane because it did not have one of its own available. On Sunday, ATA said the plane had mechanical problems.

It was not canceled for a lack of passengers, he said.

The airline has had "satisfactory" business for its first season and plans to bring the service back again next year. Teasdale couldn't say immediately how many were on the canceled flight. He said passengers can get refunds if they want.

"We don't want to put any passengers out," he said. "We want them to go to Greenland. It's an amazing place."

Jonathan Dean, an airport spokesman, said he hopes the service catches on with more travelers around the nation.

The airport and airline have been marketing the flights in other cities, and he was pleased to hear that Rivera and her teacher friend, Kristen Pelekanakis, took the Amtrak train down from New York for the flight from BWI. And they met Elizabeth Flesher, a recent law school graduate, who made her way from Washington.

Flesher said the cooler temperatures in Greenland and the direct flight from Baltimore were big draws.

"We've gotten to swim and eat and sightsee," she said. "Just not in Greenland - yet."

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