By Jill Caniglia and Melanie Starkey
ANNAPOLIS – Mary Wood, a veterinary librarian from Davis, Calif., has been trying to get home since Tuesday, but she isn’t sure she wants to fly there.
“I keep thinking that I’m going to have a breakdown when I get on the plane,” said a teary-eyed Wood.
Stranded in the Baltimore area after a business meeting was cut short by the terrorist attacks Tuesday, Wood was at the reopened Baltimore/Washington International Airport Thursday. When she finally gets home, it will be a long time before she leaves again.
Wood did take comfort in the extra security at BWI: “I don’t see how anyone could complain.”
BWI and Washington Dulles International Airport, along with other airports around the country, reopened Thursday after the FAA ordered its first-ever halt of all flights nationwide after Tuesday’s hijackings and attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and Pentagon in Washington.
Flights remained grounded at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport Thursday. The scene at BWI just after the 11 a.m. opening was of a much more secure place: police lined terminal hallways, search dogs surveyed the grounds and “authorized personnel only” signs hung in many corridors.
It was similar at Dulles, where security guards and airline employees far outnumbered hopeful passengers.
One of the four hijacked planes – three of which were used as guided missiles to strike the twin towers of the World Trade Center and the nation’s military headquarters — departed from Dulles.
Most of the few travelers who ventured to the airports Thursday were calm and confident about flying.
About two hours after BWI reopened, fewer than 10 people could be found standing in the usually long check-in lines.
Ardie Tavan, a Los Angeles architect, didn’t mind waiting until the airlines were safe. “After what I’ve been through, [waiting] is nothing,” he said. Tavan sat in a plane on a runway in New York when the towers were hit. His flight was grounded, so he took the train from New York to Maryland, where he hoped to board a US Airways flight. Airports, including the two regionals here, were given the go-ahead by the FAA to resume business after stepping up security measures. New rules include: searching all planes and airports before passengers are allowed in, discontinuing curbside check-ins and off-airport check-ins and close monitoring of vehicles near airport terminals. In addition, only ticketed passengers will be allowed past security checkpoints. Continental Airlines, operating out of both airports, and Southwest Airlines at BWI remain closed. All airlines must receive FAA clearance before they are allowed to fly again. Although Continental Airlines has met the FAA’s heightened security measures, the airline has not yet received FAA clearance and has suspended flights until it does, according to BWI’s Web site. The Web site also said Southwest is working around the clock to implement these measures and is scheduled to resume operation Friday. Airlines that did meet the security standards were slow to return to normal business. Niels and Dries Posthumus arrived at Dulles after finding out from Swiss Air that it would be 10 days before they could return to Amsterdam. They spent the afternoon trying to find an earlier flight without success.
“I just want to go home now,” said Niels, who was unsure if travel insurance would pay for their hotel stay and new tickets.
Both men had spent much of their American vacation in New York City, leaving just 16 hours before the World Trade Center attack. They watched television footage from Washington, where they were supposed to wrap up their trip.
More than five hours after BWI reopened, just two Continental planes had taken off for New Jersey, and neither carried passengers. Passengers did arrive at BWI on a Delta Air Lines flight from Atlanta at 2:45 p.m. Tony Butler was one of the lucky few to get a flight out of Dulles. He had been told not to expect to fly home to Tokyo until next Wednesday, so he decided to visit with colleagues during his unexpected stay. Just as he returned to his room for his wallet before a lunch date, Butler received a call from All Nippon Airlines asking him if he could make an afternoon flight. He wasn’t bothered by the delay, or the security precautions. “I think it’s entirely understandable and proper,” he said. “Safety comes first, and sometimes it comes at a price.” Some customers decided to go to the airport to check on flight schedules after being unable to get through on the phone. Larry Peters, a service technician for a Chicago-based company, got nothing but a busy signal calling Southwest. He secured a seat on a flight to Chicago leaving Saturday, but decided to stick around the airport for awhile to see if anything changed.
“You need a lot of patience right now,” said Peters, who has been stranded since Tuesday. “If I’d have known it was going to take this long, I would have driven.” Many travelers opted to drive their way out. “Ninety percent of what we’ve been doing is giving directions and handing out maps,” said Rachael Calkins, BWI Welcome Center supervisor.
– 30 – CNS 09-13-01