By Bobby White and Nora Achrati
ANNAPOLIS – The three largest airports in the Washington area closed until late this morning, traffic snarled as government offices shut down and Metro trains skirted the heavily damaged Pentagon in the wake of apparent terrorist airplane attacks in the region and New York City.
“Major Problems-Avoid D.C. Metro Area” read the lighted traffic sign over Route 50, warning away drivers headed for the District and Baltimore-bound highways. Heavy traffic severely slowed movement out of Washington and as federal employees abandoned the city.
“It’s terrible,” said Alaska-bound traveler Henry Walker, who said he was with the Air Force. “I just came home from Saudi Arabia,” Walker said. “We had been hearing about terrorist activities while I was over there, but I had been thinking that nothing was going to happen there because security was too tight.”
American Airlines flight 77, carrying 58 passengers, four flight attendants and three pilots, left Dulles Airport shortly before crashing into one side of the Pentagon building in Arlington, Va.
All flights into and out of Baltimore Washington International Airport, Washington Dulles International Airport and Ronald Reagan National Airport were halted after the Federal Aviation Administration canceled all flights nationwide following the attacks. It was the first time the FAA has ordered such a nationwide “ground stop.”
Metro rail closed its Pentagon and National Airport stations and Yellow Line trains were not running on the bridge over the Potomac River, according to Metro officials. From Pentagon City, buses to and from Rosslyn were added to the station’s regular bus service.
At BWI, passengers rerouted from flights around the country scrambled to contact relatives, friends and employers to give them the news: they’re alive and safe and won’t be leaving the ground.
Long lines for pay phones and power outlets formed shortly after the airport closing was announced. Cell phone use skyrocketed around the airport.
Security within BWI was tightening significantly: FAA personnel walked the corridors as bomb-sniffing dogs examined luggage pulled from delayed and re-routed flights. Police patrolled the interior and exterior of the main terminal on foot and bicycle.
Most airport shops closed, but a Starbucks and a bar remained open. Passengers packed both to watch television news updates of the airplane crashes.
Bruce McKenzie sat outside the coffee shop reading “Crisis 4,” a terrorist novel. He had to leave his plane to Detroit after airlines were put on alert.
“There isn’t much I can do about it,” said McKenzie, whose Detroit office contacted him and said they would get in touch with his family. “It’s awful. If this isn’t war, I don’t know what is.”
Rick Catron boarded his plane to Portland, Ore., but 20 minutes before it was scheduled for takeoff he and fellow passengers were instructed to leave the plane.
“I think we all feel the same – just horrible,” Catron said as he stood in a pay phone line. Catron learned train service from BWI had been canceled and planned instead to take the airport Super Shuttle to the District. Authorities began organizing 35 shuttles to make continuous runs between the airport and the District. Each shuttle carries seven passengers. Other stranded passengers flooded the airport’s rental-car agency kiosks, prompting employees to place “Reservation Only” signs outside their offices. “We were able to accommodate people at first, but after the large influx we weren’t able to,” said Avis manager Will Miller. BWI employs about 11,000 full- and part-time employees to help manage the 53,000 passengers that come through the airport daily. The airport serves 50 airlines, including American. Dulles is the largest airport in the region, serving more than 55,000 people on a daily basis and employing over 15,000. All three area airports serve more than 150,000 passengers daily. Those trying to get to area airports have had about as much success as those trying to get out. One traveler bound for National Airport asked a Metro attendant to direct him. “They’re hijacking planes and running them into buildings and you’re trying to get to the airport?” the attendant replied. “Good luck.” CNS staff writer CAROLYN TASCHNER also contributed to this report. – 30 – CNS-9-11-01