Yankee hospitality: Americans open homes _ and wallets, and parks _ to stranded travelers

By John Curran, AP
Tuesday, April 20, 2010

In US, welcome mat goes out for stranded travelers

KILLINGTON, Vermont — The Mountain Inn was ready to call it a season. Then came the call from a group of British schoolboys who’d checked out a day earlier after five days on the Killington slopes.

They’d headed home, only to find out after a six-hour bus ride to New York that they wouldn’t be flying anywhere, thanks to grounded European air travel in the wake of Iceland’s volcanic eruption.

Could they come back to Vermont? Sure, said innkeeper Chirag Patel. He called in two housekeepers, got his mother and father — co-owners of the inn — to come in to make up the beds and prepared for the unexpected return of 66 guests, even though he’d been planned to close the place for a few months Sunday.

At 2 a.m. Sunday, 60 weary teenagers and chaperones from The Judd School checked back into the 50-room Mountain Inn, across the street from Killington ski resort.

“I thought it would be good, I’m going to miss my geography test on Monday,” a glum Miles Partridge, 15, said Monday. “Then when I realized it might be a bit longer, I thought I’d rather get back to my family than sort of stay in America.”

Still, they were among the lucky ones. While thousands around the globe slept on airport floors or chairs, others got a dose of old-fashioned Yankee hospitality as Americans opened their homes, wallets and businesses to stranded air travelers waiting for Europe’s skies to clear.

“The American people have been fantastic to us,” said Peter Dayson, who was with a 41-person group of British collegians stranded in Logan, Ohio. “We’re very humbled by the way we’ve been looked after and treated.”

In Chicago, a suburban mom put an ad on Craigslist offering free lodging — in her finished attic — to any family stranded by the air travel ban, sympathetic to the strain it would be on their budget.

“We would benefit more than they would by getting a chance to meet a family,” said Michelle Dolan, 40, of Park Ridge, Illinois, a mother of three whose home is a 15-minute ride from O’Hare International Airport, where there were dozens of cancellations Monday. “I would almost pay for that experience.”

In Newark, New Jersey, a family of Brits returning from Las Vegas got stranded at Newark Liberty International Airport, where a TV report on their plight drew numerous inquiries. Jeanmarie Keenan, of Scotch Plains, New Jersey, drove there to find Mick Jordan, wife Jane and 13-year-old son Billy low on cash and eating only one meal a day

Keenan took them home with her.

“We’d had nowhere to sleep for three nights,” said Mick Jordan. “Then she came up to us and we just said, ‘Oh, thank you very kindly.’ They’ve been absolutely brilliant. We never expected to get what we got.”

In Orlando, Florida, SeaWorld offered free admission to anyone showing a return plane ticket on (what should have been) flights to Europe.

“It’s fantastic,” said Karl Keogh, 41, an Irish tourist who took advantage of it along with brother Alan Keogh, 52. “It’s nice to see someone cares …”

Universal Orlando Resort was giving visitors who had an expired ticket an extra day’s admission to its two theme parks if they had proof of a delayed flight. They later expanded the freebie to anyone who could show they’d been stranded in central Florida due to the volcano, not just those who’d been visiting Universal.

Walt Disney World, meanwhile, offered free admission to its theme parks and water parks Tuesday and Wednesday for Europeans who show canceled plane ticket or an expired boarding pass.

Dayson, a producer and director, was in Ohio with performing arts students from Havering College performing a new musical featuring Beatles hits, near Hocking College, with which they have a “cross over” exchange program. Once they learned they couldn’t fly out, Hocking’s administrators, hotel staff and others helped those who’d run out of money or needed food or medicine, Dayson said.

The British schoolboys got a break, too.

The Mountain Inn — where they’d just spent a five-day ski vacation — agreed to continue the discounted rate for rooms that typically go for $99 to $129 a night at the end of the ski season.

Two local restaurants agreed to provide dinners, and a shuttle bus to ferry the boys to and from the inn, about a half-mile away.

The real challenge was keeping 60 boys aged 13 to 16 safe and occupied for what could be several more days, and finding a way to finance it.

Their school, located in Tonbridge, Kent, wired money to teacher-chaperone Martin Rivers to help pay for bowling, movies and a rock-climbing expedition. Also sent: homework assignments, including study materials for Shakespeare’s “The Tempest,” which some of the boys worked on Monday afternoon, sitting at tables in the inn’s restaurant.

“You can’t keep 60 boys in a hotel with nothing to do,” said Rivers. “It’s not fair on them.”

Killington Resort, meanwhile, offered free ski rentals and lift tickets to the group, in case they wanted to ski some more, spokesman Tom Horrocks said.

“It’s such a small world now, that such a situation happening all the way to the other side of the Atlantic Ocean is affecting on this side at the same time,” said Patel, the innkeeper.

Associated Press writers Michael Tarm in Chicago, Mike Schneider in Orlando, Florida, JoAnne Viviano in Columbus, Ohio, and Dave Porter in Newark, New Jersey, contributed to this report.

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