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Flight cancellations impact Rose Parade travelers and volunteers

The flowers for the 134th Rose Parade are fine, but flight cancellations across the country are causing hiccups for prospective volunteers and spectators alike.

Thousands of Southwest Airlines passengers remained stranded this week with severe winter weather triggering cancellations and delayed flights throughout the nation.

The airline had canceled nearly 2,700 flights nationally as of Tuesday evening, a time when many are preparing to ascend upon Pasadena for the Jan. 2 parade and Rose Bowl Game.

A total of 4,002 flights within, into or out of the US were canceled on Monday, according to flight tracking website FlightAware, while 9,259 flights were delayed.

Read more Rose Parade coverage here

The flowers and natural mosses that will adorn the floats are typically shipped via boat, a blessing for float builders and volunteers in Sierra Madre, La Cañada Flintridge and Irwindale who are able to add the finishing touches to their spectacles on wheels without any worry of delays.

Some longtime craftsmen and out-of-state volunteers, however, are stuck in airports without a way to Pasadena for the foreseeable future, explained Pam Wiedenbeck, treasurer of the La Cañada- Flintridge Tournament of Roses Float Association.

Community members decorate the La Canada Flintridge Tournament of Roses parade float under the 210 Freeway overpass in La Canada on Wednesday, December 28, 2022. (Photo by Libby Cline-Birmingham, Contributing Photographer)

Sitting under the 210 freeway on a chilly afternoon — by California’s standards — Wiedenbeck watched dozens of volunteers fluff pampas grass while others painted a towering chimney, which will accompany three giant raccoons on a journey down Colorado Boulevard next week.

Having worked on the association’s floats for years, Wirdenbeck described the dash to the Rose Parade’s finish line as anything but routine.

This year’s scramble, though, has forced a few float decorators to push forward without their most prominent volunteers.

AJ Hongthong and Maddy Hongthong of Girl Scout Troop 1226 cut status to be placed on the La Canada Flintridge Tournament of Roses parade float under the 210 Freeway overpass in La Canada on Wednesday, December 28, 2022. (Photo by Libby Cline-Birmingham, Contributing Photographer)

Community members decorate the La Canada Flintridge Tournament of Roses parade float under the 210 Freeway overpass in La Canada on Wednesday, December 28, 2022. (Photo by Libby Cline-Birmingham, Contributing Photographer)

Community members decorate the La Canada Flintridge Tournament of Roses parade float under the 210 Freeway overpass in La Canada on Wednesday, December 28, 2022. (Photo by Libby Cline-Birmingham, Contributing Photographer)

Adelina Van Dyck of Montrose places bird seed on the La Canada Flintridge Tournament of Roses parade float under the 210 Freeway overpass in La Canada on Wednesday, December 28, 2022. (Photo by Libby Cline-Birmingham, Contributing Photographer)

Community members decorate the La Canada Flintridge Tournament of Roses parade float under the 210 Freeway overpass in La Canada on Wednesday, December 28, 2022. (Photo by Libby Cline-Birmingham, Contributing Photographer)

Community members decorate the La Canada Flintridge Tournament of Roses parade float under the 210 Freeway overpass in La Canada on Wednesday, December 28, 2022. (Photo by Libby Cline-Birmingham, Contributing Photographer)

Patches from past parades for sale at the La Canada Flintridge Tournament of Roses parade float under the 210 Freeway overpass in La Canada on Wednesday, December 28, 2022. (Photo by Libby Cline-Birmingham, Contributing Photographer)

Members of Girl Scout troop 1226 cut status for the La Canada Flintridge Tournament of Roses parade float under the 210 Freeway overpass in La Canada on Wednesday, December 28, 2022. (Photo by Libby Cline-Birmingham, Contributing Photographer)

Marjorie and Chuck Everson of Montana help decorate the La Canada Flintridge Tournament of Roses parade float under the 210 Freeway overpass in La Canada on Wednesday, December 28, 2022. (Photo by Libby Cline-Birmingham, Contributing Photographer)

Cameron, Claire, and Brooke Plotkin help fill vials for flowers on the La Canada Flintridge Tournament of Roses parade float under the 210 Freeway overpass in La Canada on Wednesday, December 28, 2022. (Photo by Libby Cline-Birmingham, Contributing Photographer)

Adelina Van Dyck places bird seed on the La Canada Flintridge Tournament of Roses parade float under the 210 Freeway overpass in La Canada on Wednesday, December 28, 2022. (Photo by Libby Cline-Birmingham, Contributing Photographer)

Volunteers decorate the La Canada Flintridge Tournament of Roses parade float under the 210 Freeway overpass in La Canada on Wednesday, December 28, 2022. (Photo by Libby Cline-Birmingham, Contributing Photographer)

Olivia Van Dyck and her sister Adelina Van Dyck help decorate the La Canada Flintridge Tournament of Roses parade float under the 210 Freeway overpass in La Canada on Wednesday, December 28, 2022. (Photo by Libby Cline-Birmingham, Contributing Photographer)

Community members and volunteers decorate the La Canada Flintridge Tournament of Roses parade float under the 210 Freeway overpass in La Canada on Wednesday, December 28, 2022. (Photo by Libby Cline-Birmingham, Contributing Photographer)

Chuck Everson of Montana places seeds on the La Canada Flintridge Tournament of Roses parade float under the 210 Freeway overpass in La Canada on Wednesday, December 28, 2022. (Photo by Libby Cline-Birmingham, Contributing Photographer)

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“Every year brings new challenges. But I’ve never seen anything like this,” Wiedenbeck said, speaking of the flights that have wreaked havoc on holiday travel plans for residents from Long Beach to La Canada.

One volunteer left to Texas to spend Christmas with their first grandchild on Dec. 23. “No problems. No worries,” Wiedenbeck said. “But he’s been moving from canceled flight to canceled flight ever since.”

Sierra Madre’s Kay Sappington, a longtime resident who’s led the local decorating team for nearly two decades, echoed the sentiment while standing in a warehouse just a few miles east on the 210 freeway.

Sappington said she relies on “Tennessee Jackie, Minnesota Bob and Vegas Greg,” a few volunteers who traditionally make a trip from out-of-state, to perfect the final preparations with the team who’s working in Sierra Madre year-round.

Some are welders with expertise in metal working. Others are quick to pack a rose into the styrofoam padding.

Fortunately, according to Wiedenbeck, tourists from other states have been stranded in the area as well. This has allowed the group to welcome a few unexpected volunteers who had an extra day in the region after their own flight was canceled.

“I can’t complain because our shifts have have all been full,” Wiedenbeck said. “Our walk-ups have been the same level as our no shows.”

A reliance on volunteers isn’t always common in today’s world of float building but it’s important, Wiedenbeck said, because self-built organizations like La Canada and Sierra Madre rely on the community to keep their annual traditions alive.

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It takes a village,” Wiedenbeck said, “and the parade may have one of the mightiest — or maybe just the most dedicated.”

Related links

Pasadena’s Rose Parade floats: From backyard flowers to an industry
Cal Poly Pomona’s 2023 Rose Parade float is tribute to nature, rebirth
What it’s like to drive a Rose Parade float from a 50-year veteran
Rose Parade float building has always been costly; inflation and pandemic didn’t help

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