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De-icer shortage hinders travel for Bison fans

FARGO -- Passengers had to scramble at Hector International Airport in Fargo to rebook flights or head off to other airports Thursday as a shortage of deicing fluid led to the cancellation of at least six flights out of Fargo and delayed others.

Delays at Hector strand Bison fans
Passengers including North Dakota State University Bison fans destined for Frisco, Tex., deal with flight cancellations Thursday at Hector Airport in Fargo. (Dave Wallis/The Forum)

FARGO -- Passengers had to scramble at Hector International Airport in Fargo to rebook flights or head off to other airports Thursday as a shortage of deicing fluid led to the cancellation of at least six flights out of Fargo and delayed others.

Stranded passengers packed the unsecured area of the airport near the airline check-in counters, just inside the main exterior doors.

Tom Olson and his buddies were in line to talk with a United Airlines agent to figure out how they'd get down to Frisco, Texas, to watch the North Dakota State Bison play in the FCS championship football game against the Jacksonville (Ala.) State University Gamecocks.

"The run down the line is that a lot of people are scattering" to other airports -- Minneapolis, Sioux Falls, Bismarck -- to catch flights heading south, Olson said.

The Bison fan joked that "they say Jacksonville came up here and drained the de-icer."

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"We were supposed to leave on the United Flight at 7:45 (a.m.), said James Fiechtner, who with his wife, Tamme, and son and daughter were still at the airport at noon waiting to get picked up.

The Fiechtners were on the way to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to embark on a cruise on Saturday, they said.

"Who runs out of de-icing fluid in the middle of January? Especially in North Dakota?" Fiechtner asked. "Thank God we planned (to leave) two days early or we'd be out $8,000."

They said they were rebooked for a Delta flight leaving this morning.

"I'm hoping they (the airline) will give us some sort of compensation for that," Tamme Fiechtner said. "As long as we get to our ship on Saturday."

Michael Thomas, a spokesman for Delta Airlines, said in an email that some Delta flights leaving the Fargo airport "were impacted as a result of a shortage of de-icing fluid required for safe winter weather operations."

Thomas said customers were given pizza and beverages while they waited.

"Customers will be re-accommodated on alternate flights using larger aircraft this evening. The safety of Delta's customers and crew members is always our top priority," Thomas wrote.

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Thomas said de-icing fluid was to arrive in Fargo by 6 p.m. Thursday and Delta flights would depart shortly thereafter. Delta and United Airlines flight operations are performed by Delta's wholly owned subsidiary, DGS, he said.

Fargo Hector International Airport stated on Facebook that airline crews had de-icing equipment and fluid Thursday morning, but were de-icing five times more than usual due to heavy snowfall.

The problems with de-icer didn't extend to the Fargo Jet Center.

"Private aircraft are taking off without any issue," said Fargo Jet Center President Jim Sweeney.

Jeff Munro, who had planned to head to Hawaii with his brother and his brother's girlfriend, said they had gotten on their plane and were waiting 45 minutes for de-icer. Then they were advised to deplane, and a half hour later were told no de-icer was available.

They've re-booked their flight for Delta this morning, Munro said.

"We can't get out until tomorrow," he said Thursday. "We just lose a day of vacation."

David Yaggie and his wife, Jeri, of Breckenridge, Minn., had also hoped to be winging their way to Hawaii. Jeri was on a cellphone with their travel agent to rebook their flight.

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Across from them, North Dakota state Sen. Larry Luick, R-Fairmount, said he was going to give up and go home.

Luick had planned to go to Denver for an agriculture summit that starts today. Then his flight was canceled.

"I don't believe running out of de-icing fluid is something they can just call a weather issue," Luick said.

Bob Majkrzak of West Fargo planned to leave Fargo at 11:30 a.m. Thursday and arrive in Frisco around 6 p.m. Thursday.

"I planned to enjoy Frisco and now the plan is just to get there," he said. "It looks like we are going to drive down to Minneapolis and catch a flight there. I hope our Sunday return flight is better."

"There were a lot of rumors flying around here -- no pun intended," said Tim O'Keeffe, a Fargo lawyer stuck at Hector with his father, Mike O'Keeffe. "You don't think you'd run out of deicing fluid in Fargo, North Dakota."

Making their third trek each to Frisco for championship game, the O'Keeffes had planned to be in Dallas on Thursday afternoon to take in some of the festivities.

Mike O'Keeffe drove from Bismarck to Fargo and now the father and son had plans to drive to Bismarck and catch a flight there and arrive in Frisco today.

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