United Airlines diverts four international flights to Dulles due to Houston flooding
DULLES, Va. (ABC7) – The torrential downpour of rain overcoming the Houston area figuratively filled the corridors of Dulles International Airport Sunday.
United Airlines, which operates its second largest hub at George Bush Intercontinental Airport, ceased all flights in Houston around 9 a.m. CDT Sunday. That required the nation’s fourth largest airline (based on passengers flown) to divert dozens of midair flights to various airports across the country.
Dulles International Airport, which is United’s sixth largest hub, accepted four diverted planes. The flights, all utilizing Boeing 767 and 777 aircraft, arrived from Amsterdam, Netherlands, Buenos Aires, Argentina, Lima, Peru and São Paulo, Brazil, Sunday afternoon. An estimated 1000 passengers were on-board the diverted flights.
United asked many of its customer service employees to clock extra hours Sunday to help accommodate the long line of stranded passengers. In fact, the airline opened a row of counters specifically for passengers impacted by the flooding in Houston. Employees also offered its red-eyed fliers complimentary water and snacks from a colorful push cart.
“Halfway through our flight they were just like, ‘yeah we’re not flying to Houston anymore, we’re going to Washington,’” said Calgary-bound passenger Kristine Thue.
Thue and her sister spent the last two weeks trekking through Peru. Their flight from Lima to Houston was delayed by five hours because of the inclement weather only to then be diverted. Because United does not fly non-stop from Washington Dulles to Calgary, the sisters had to spend Sunday night in the D.C. area. United booked them on an 8:30 a.m. Monday flight, which connects at Chicago O’Hare International Airport. If all goes according to plan, they will land in Calgary around 3:45 p.m. MDT Monday.
“We didn’t have any bargaining chips, they just said this is your one option,” Thue added with a sweet laugh. “So we’re going to the Marriott, which we got a hotel night for and $30 for meals.”
Brian McLaurin of Sugar Land, Texas, a town located about 20 miles southwest of Houston, spent the last week in Buenos Aires on business. His long haul flight to Houston was delayed by more than eight hours.
“They were saying the flight was on-time, the airport was functional, it was only rain, it would be okay," McLaurin stated. "But then we got about 75 percent of the way into the flight and we found out we were getting diverted to D.C.”
McLaurin had hoped to return to his wife, but with zero flight options into Houston and meetings in Atlanta scheduled for Tuesday, the IT executive opted to book a flight from Dulles to Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport. He also shared concern about his car which he parked in a long term lot at George Bush Intercontinental.
“They’re saying the airport there is flooded completely. I’m worried about my car, worried that my car is floating away," McLaurin added. “It could be worse, I could still be stuck in South America, at least I’m here in the United States."
Andrian and Jenny Lopez were also onboard the diverted Buenos Aires flight. The couple is returning from competing in the Tango Festival and World Cup in Argentina's capital city. Their final destination: Manila, Philippines, originally by way of Houston and Tokyo.
"We are tired, very tried," Jenny Lopez stated with exhaustion in her eyes. “Everything got screwed up, because of the hurricane.”
Jeremy Luyo and a fellow co-worker stood a few people ahead in the long line of travel woes. Luyo was meant to connect in Houston for a Krispy Kreme convention in Orlando that is scheduled to start at 9 a.m. EDT Monday.
"Our meetings in Orlando are with all of the franchises," Luyo stated. “Our families, they are very concerned about this delay.”
A United Airlines spokesman tells ABC7 the carrier added 150 employees to its Houston hub before the first drop of rain fell. It also sent a Boeing 777 from Chicago to Houston Sunday afternoon. The "rescue flight" was stocked with food, water and extra manpower to handle the historic and very fluid situation.