WASHINGTON – Workers and businesses cheered — some literally — as Reagan National Airport celebrated its return to business Thursday, even though the expansive hallways remained largely empty of passengers.
“I know it will get better, it’ll just take a few weeks,” said Kay Schweizer, a Hyattsville resident who was helping sort 60 boxes of magazines for a W.H. Smith store near the US Airways terminal.
She and others are optimistic about the reopening, however limited. Eight US Airways shuttles flew out to New York and Boston on Thursday, and eight Delta shuttles flew to New York.
Those airlines, along with American, United, Northwest and Continental, also began limited service between Reagan and several other cities Thursday. The total number of passengers at Reagan was not available Thursday, but crowds were sparse.
“We obviously have a road ahead of us to rebuild things,” said Rebecca Pawlowski, an Alexandria resident who came out with a group from the Washington Convention and Tourism Corp. to welcome passengers. But, she said, Thursday was a good first step.
Silver Spring-based Choice Hotels International sent representatives to the airport to greet passengers with a yellow “Thanks for traveling” banner. Every time someone with baggage walked toward the check-in area, the group jumped and cheered as if boarding the plane was a major athletic event.
“It basically thanks everyone for helping to re-energize the local economy,” said Felicia Farrar of Richmond.
The Choice chain, which operates Clarion, Quality, Comfort Inn, Econo Lodge and other hotels around the world, has 40 hotels within a 10-mile radius of Washington.
It took about a year for the tourism economy to get back to normal levels after the Gulf War, said Pawlowski, who estimates that this time it might take a bit longer. The fact that flights started only two days after President Bush announced Reagan’s reopening was encouraging, Pawlowski said.
The first flight out Thursday carried a delegation of Washington-area officials who flew to New York and immediately turned around and flew back to Reagan, where their arrival was cheered by the business and tourism cheerleaders.
D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat, said after the trip that it “was not a victory lap. This was the beginning of the long haul.”
Montgomery County Executive Doug Duncan, calling himself the “token Marylander” on Thursday’s inaugural shuttle flight, said at the news conference that Reagan is critical to the future of Maryland, as well as Washington and Virginia.
Duncan also came away from the flight with hope for the Montgomery County Airpark, which has been closed by a 25 nautical mile no-fly zone around Washington after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Based on discussions on the flight, Duncan said he has reason to believe that the no-fly zone will be reduced to 18 nautical miles within the next couple of days, clearing the way for the airpark to resume operations.