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Comair to Be Crippled for Days

Regional airline Comair (search) will need several days to resume a full schedule of flights that were grounded over the busy holiday weekend due to a computer failure, a company official said.

A day after all 1,100 of Comair's flights were canceled, customers frustrated from days of delays and cancellations got some relief Sunday when the airline resumed 172 flights, about 15 percent of its normal schedule.

"We anticipate Comair will be able to operate on a full schedule by Wednesday," said Nick Miller, a spokesman for the Delta subsidiary based at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (search). "That is our goal."

About 100 people stood in line Sunday at the ticket counter shared by Comair and Delta, waiting to be helped by two dozen agents. Nearby in the terminal were huge piles of lost luggage.

Comair wasn't the only airline that experienced problems during the holiday travel rush.

US Airways (search) started chipping away Sunday at a mountain of backed-up luggage, part of what its chief executive called an "operational meltdown."

Hundreds of US Airways flights were canceled from Friday to Sunday, the result of severe weather Thursday and large numbers of baggage handlers, ramp workers and flight attendants calling in sick.

US Airways was operating at near-normal levels by Sunday, when it had canceled 43 of about 1,200 flights systemwide. That was down from 143 scratched flights on Saturday and 176 on Friday.

Comair's computer system that manages flight assignments failed Friday night, overwhelmed by cancellations and delays caused by the winter storm that socked Ohio. Without that information, the airline was not able to determine whether crews had exceeded the federal limit for flying hours, The Cincinnati Enquirer reported.

The computer shutdown forced the airline to cancel all of its Saturday flights. Miller did not know how many customers were affected, but said the airline serves 30,000 travelers in 118 cities on a normal day.

Jackson Lashier, 26, and wife Julie, 27, of Wilmore, Ky., called Comair about 50 times Saturday before finally reaching a worker who told them their flight to Des Moines, Iowa, on Sunday was canceled.

Comair booked the couple on a Delta flight to Minneapolis, where Lashier's parents would pick them up.

"We feel very fortunate that we are able to get out today," Lashier said Sunday. "A lot of people here today are under much worse circumstances."

US Airways chief executive Bruce Lakefield criticized employees who made that airline's problems worse by calling in sick.

"I have seen lots of excuses for why people took it upon themselves to call in sick, such as low morale, poor management, anger over pay cuts and frustration with labor negotiations," Lakefield said. "None of those excuses passes the test."

Union leaders in negotiations with the airline over further pay and benefits concessions denied any organized effort.

"It's poor management planning, that's my opinion," said Teddy Xidas, president of the Pittsburgh branch of the Association of Flight Attendants (search). "We have sick calls every single year around the holiday."

U.S. Department of Transportation (search) spokesman Robert Johnson said Sunday that federal officials were monitoring the progress with US Airways and would investigate what happened.

US Airways, which is operating under Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, approved a new contract with its reservations and gate agents Thursday that slashed pay by 13 percent. The airline is seeking deals with flight attendants and machinists that it says it needs to drastically cut labor costs to survive beyond mid-January.