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Chuck Landon: Flights in or out of W.Va. canceled

Mar. 19, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

GROUNDED, U.S.A. -- That is the new dateline for the state of West Virginia as it pertains to airline travel.

It has become abundantly clear that state residents simply can't fly in or out of West Virginia with any degree of reliability anymore.

And it doesn't matter if it's Tri-State Airport in Huntington or Yeager Airport in Charleston. It has become excruciatingly difficult, thanks to the airlines.

As for sports, it is growing nearly impossible for Marshall's athletic teams, Herd officials, MU fans or, yes, sportswriters to fly the suddenly unfriendly skies above West Virginia.

The Marshall men's basketball team is a prime example.

When it departed for the Conference USA Tournament last week, it rode a charter bus to Lexington, Ky., flew in two groups to Oklahoma City, Okla., rendezvoused there and, then, flew together to Tulsa, Okla.

Then, when coach Tom Herrion decided to return to Huntington on Thursday instead of Friday after his team lost to Tulane on Wednesday night, it involved flying into Louisville and riding a charter bus back to West Virginia.

For other road games, Marshall's basketball program flew out of Cincinnati.

There's no other choice. If West Virginia residents actually want to reach their destination in a timely fashion, they have to fly out of Columbus, Cincinnati or Lexington and, then, return there.

Herald-Dispatch sports editor Rick McCann and I learned that lesson the very, very difficult way while trying to fly to the C-USA Tournament and back on United Airlines.

What an odyssey.

It began with a scheduled 5:40 a.m. flight from Yeager Airport on March 12. We drove from Huntington to Charleston, reaching the United counter at 4:38 a.m. A female employee promptly told us in a whimsical voice that our flight was canceled.

We thought she was joking.

She wasn't.

Our lone option was a 2:25 p.m. flight to Dulles International in Washington, D.C. How flying east to the nation's capital was a good idea when we were headed west to Tulsa escaped me. Eleven hours later, we began a four-hour layover in Dulles.

Our flight to Tulsa was supposed to depart at 7:50 p.m., but then we discovered the plane was delayed to an 11 p.m. departure. Where was the plane coming from? Where else? Charleston.

We finally arrived in Tulsa at 2 a.m. EST, meaning we had spent nearly 23 hours traveling.

A similar fate awaited Marshall athletic director Mike Hamrick. He was scheduled on that same 5:40 a.m. United flight from Yeager the very next day. Guess what? Hamrick's flight was canceled and he never made it to Tulsa.

Then, there were our return flights on March 17. We flew from Tulsa to O'Hare in Chicago without incident. But as we awaited our 1:15 p.m. connecting flight to Charleston, United Airlines struck again.

Our flight was canceled.

And no more were available on Sunday.

So, we had to spend the night in Chicago and hope that the flight to Charleston actually would leave on Monday. It didn't.

Instead, United canceled our flight for the second consecutive day, rebooking us through Washington, D.C., and, perhaps, into Charleston at 9:15 p.m.

If you are scoring at home, our five flights included three cancellations and one delay.

We went 1-for-5, thanks to United.

The sad, ugly truth is the days of flying in or out of West Virginia are over. Maybe it will improve, but as I wait for another cancellation in Chicago, I rather doubt it.

Are you listening, Senator Joe Manchin?

Chuck Landon is a sports columnist for The Herald-Dispatch. Contact him at 304-526-2827, or clandon@herald-dispatch.com.

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