Neither a five-hour delay in their flight departing Tampa for New York nor uncertainty about whether they’d be able to complete their trip home to the Netherlands in time for work Monday could daunt the spirits of Jos and Arja van der Donk.
The van der Donks, their two daughters Sacha and Ella, and the young womens’ boyfriends, Dion Methorst and Manuel Rizzeto, remained upbeat on Friday from two weeks vacation in Florida, despite an unexpected delay at Tampa International Airport.
Perhaps they drew their calm from Jos van der Donk’s expertise as a psychologist. Or maybe the airport’s plush, new main terminal furniture — soft chairs with USB ports and built-in electrical outlets — put them in a good frame of mind for whatever Delta Air Lines and KLM Royal Dutch Airlines had in store for them.
“Actually, we just love to travel,” Arja Van der Donk said. “And everyone here has been so nice.”
The group of six had plenty of company in their predicament on Friday, when Tampa International experienced a higher-than-normal number of flight delays because of winter storms in the Northeast.
By mid-afternoon, there were 107 reported delays — 52 departures and 55 arrivals, both averaging an hour and a half of delay time, Tampa International spokeswoman Emily Nipps said. In addition to the delays, 45 flights to and from Tampa International were canceled. The airport generally handles up to 250 arrivals and 250 departures daily.
Most of Tampa’s delays and cancellations involved flights to and from the New York area airports, Boston, Philadelphia and Baltimore. Nationwide, more than 1,500 flights were canceled Friday, mostly at Northeast U.S. airports.
Because Tampa International primarily serves origin or destination passengers and is not a hub where many passengers transfer flights, the airport generally does not handle hordes of stranded passengers because most outbound passengers and those meeting flights learn of delays from airlines before leaving for the airport.
However, Tampa’s ticket counters were busy Friday accommodating passengers unable to change plans with airlines over the telephone. Seating at the main terminal areas was at a premium, though it appeared most found a comfortable place to wait for their flights.
Lee and Vivian Massey, retired U.S. Air Force officers who live in Fort Walton Beach, enjoyed a glass of wine and salads at the First Flight Wine Bar by Mise En Place, five hours before their scheduled Delta Air Lines departure for Atlanta and a connecting flight to the Florida Panhandle.
“Our flight is still on-time,” said Lee Massey, a former helicopter pilot who flew flight crew rescue missions from a base in Thailand among his assignments. “But we have been staying at the airport Marriott Hotel and had to check out, so we are early.”
“This is the nicest we’ve had it here,” Vivian Massey said with a smile, alluding to sitting in the rain New Year’s Day at Raymond James Stadium when her Iowa Hawkeyes lost the Outback Bowl game to the Louisiana State University Tigers.
Delays were expected to continue through Friday evening, possibly into today so travelers were advised to check with their airline before heading to the airport.
Each airline has its own guidelines for re-booking flights. United Airlines, for example, was waiving flight change fees and rate differences if new flights were re-scheduled by Thursday for 18 airports, with different allowances for changes at another five destinations.
The van der Donks were hopeful they’d be able to get new flights to Amsterdam out of John F. Kennedy International Airport soon after they reached New York.
“We probably will have to take separate flights,” Jos van der Donk said. “We won’t be able to get six open seats on any flight in the next couple days.”
They were confident, though, it would be colder when they eventually reached their home town of Utrecht, though others in the Tampa Bay area were taking precautions against the chill.
Hillsborough County opened five cold weather shelters Friday night and cold weather forced the cancellation of St. Petersburg’s First Friday events.