Jetliners return to nation's skies, passengers wait in long lines

Friday, September 14th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Jetliners crossed the nation's skies in greater numbers Friday, but frustrated passengers still waited in long lines as airlines struggled to restore service three days after terrorist strikes on New York and Washington shut down America's airways.

Travelers faced hours-long delays due to intense new security measures, including bans on seemingly every conceivable weapon _ even nail clippers and plastic knives. And there were numerous delays and cancellations.

About 3,000 aircraft were over the nation by early afternoon compared with 3,600 to 4,000 on a normal day, but many had no passengers, said Jerry Snyder, a Federal Aviation Administration spokesman in Los Angeles.

``We have those aircraft that were diverted, with passengers trying to get back to their locations. We have aircraft that are empty that are being ferried back and we have air carriers trying to re-establish their normal schedules,'' he said.

No small private planes were up, a significant difference from a normal day, but agricultural spraying flights had just been approved, Snyder said. The FAA had certified more than 400 airports to reopen by Friday morning.

In Boston, a few passengers showed up in the morning with luggage at the still-closed Logan Airport after several airlines erroneously told passengers their flights would be leaving. Airport officials called the airlines and instructed them to tell passengers not to show up until the airport officially opened.

Logan was where terrorists boarded two jets that were hijacked Tuesday and crashed into New York's World Trade Center. The airport won't reopen until stricter safety measures were in place, FAA Administrator Jane Garvey said. The airport was under investigation for possible security breaches before the attacks.

At Los Angeles International Airport, people waited for hours in lines snaking through terminals. Eric and Christina Oliger, returning from a Hawaii honeymoon, stood in a long line hoping for a flight to Nashville, Tenn., even though their tickets were for Saturday.

``We don't want to go through this again tomorrow,'' Christina Oliger said. ``We are just trying to get back.''

That frustration was shared by Gertrude Snell as she tried to get to San Antonio, Texas, from Atlanta's Hartsfield airport, the world's busiest.

``If they say we're not flying out today, I'm going to scream,'' Snell said.

A few planes were flying Friday from the nation's second busiest airport, Chicago's O'Hare International. Airline workers offered help to travelers and the Red Cross passed out bananas, orange juice and breakfast biscuits.

Despite the delays and other problems, people waiting in a food court at Portland International in Oregon cheered as the first jet departed.

``People in this country have a hang-up about having their personal space invaded. But when you're in this situation, you have to sacrifice some of your individuality,'' said Kevin McArthur, a business consultant waiting at Denver International Airport for a flight to Chicago.

The New York area's three major airports _ Kennedy International, LaGuardia and Newark International _ had some landings on Thursday but then abruptly closed as the FBI detained at least 10 people of Middle Eastern decent for questioning. They were later cleared of any connection with the attack, authorities said, and the airports were reopened before noon Friday.

Washington's Reagan National Airport remained closed indefinitely. Washington-Dulles International Airport, the origin of the hijacked flight that hit the Pentagon, reopened on a limited schedule.

Officials at airports across the country said it could be late next week before commercial service is fully restored. Chances of getting a flight out of the nation's smaller airports remained slim Friday, and private flights were still banned.

Across the nation, travelers were met with long lines and delays.

Philadelphia International Airport was at half of normal operations Friday morning.

``We hope that stays for the rest of the day or gets better,'' airport spokesman Mark Pesce said. ``It changes from moment to moment.''

At the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, about 25 cots were set up with pillows, and some people were still sleeping at 8:50 a.m.

Before flights could begin operating, airports were required to implement new security measures, including banning curbside check-in and limiting access to ticketed passengers beyond security screening points.

Armed agents from the U.S. Marshals Service, U.S. Border Patrol and U.S. Customs were deployed at airport security checkpoints across the country.

``This is the kind of security you expect to see diplomats get before they board an airplane,'' said Michael Cheston, executive director of the Rhode Island Airport Corp. ``That's what we're doing for the average citizen now. That's going to slow down everything.''

One of the first passengers to arrive at Los Angeles International Airport after it reopened was ``Baywatch'' actress Angelica Bridges, whose flight from Italy had been diverted Tuesday to Canada. She said every person who boarded Thursday was searched, and no bag was put on the plane until it was identified by a passenger.

``They're not going to let anything get through, not even a nail file,'' she said.