UPDATED: Winds rattle local flight schedules

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UPDATE: The 12:55 p.m. flight from Seattle to Walla Walla is being diverted to Pasco.

WALLA WALLA -- Wicked winds have blasted the air travel schedule for passengers coming in and out of the Walla Walla Regional Airport since Wednesday night, officials said.

Flight cancellations that started Wednesday night have had a domino effect on travel plans and were expected to continue into this afternoon. With the anticipated end of a high-wind advisory at 4 p.m., the first flight in more than 24 hours is expected to come into the community at 8:46 p.m.

Wednesday's scheduled 7:50 p.m. flight from Seattle to Walla Walla was canceled due to weather conditions, leaving the airport planeless for this morning's usual 6:45 a.m. takeoff.

An extra flight that had been rescheduled by Alaska Air to bring the stranded passengers into the community this morning was also canceled because of weather, said Walla Walla Regional Airport Manager Jennifer Skoglund.

Conditions for the afternoon flight into Walla Walla didn't look good either, said Alaska Air spokeswoman Marianne Lindsey. Winds were at about 34 knots around 11:30 a.m. and were likely to lead to the cancellation of the 12:55 p.m. flight out of Seattle, she said.

"Safety's number 1," Lindsey said. "Until it's safe we would not push it."

The cancellation of the incoming flight would lead to the cancellation of outgoing flight as well.

The National Weather Service issued a wind advisory this morning expected to be in effect until 4 p.m. South winds were expected at 35 to 45 mph with gusts to 60 mph. If the timing proves true, the 7:50 p.m. flight out of Seattle would fly as planned.

"Normally this time of year it's the fog" leading to flight cancellations, Skoglund said. "This crosswind is just terrible."

It's also coming at a jam-packed time for air travel. The challenge isn't just the initial inconvenience of the delay. It's also that most every other flight is full until Christmas Eve, when there's some availability on the 7:50 p.m. fight, said World Wide Travel Service owner and Port of Walla Walla Commissioner Paul Schneidmiller. Flights into Pasco for today are also largely booked, with the exception of a couple of seats on this morning's flights. After that, the next available seat on a plane into Pasco isn't available until Sunday, he said.

"It does kind of throw things into a state of disarray," Schneidmiller lamented. "You can see what happens -- it all backs up."

Neighboring Pasco wasn't suffering the same wind-induced cancellations, travel officials said. But flights in were largely booked, leading many to explore vehicle rentals or other alternatives.

"People get really creative when this happens," Schneidmiller said.

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