BWI busy with travelers, but happy chatter missing 'Today's probably a pretty safe day to fly'

Tragedy Of Flight 800

July 19, 1996|By Mark Guidera | Mark Guidera,SUN STAFF

Was yesterday one of the safest days of the year to fly?

Airline passengers boarding flights yesterday at Baltimore-Washington International Airport seemed to think so. Or at least that was the amateur psychology some used to calm any jitters they had about getting on an airplane as news unfolded about TWA Flight 800 crashing off Long Island Wednesday night.

The crash didn't seem to pinch airline business at BWI, said airport officials. Baggage check-in terminals at such big domestic carriers as Southwest, United and USAir were mobbed with travelers, many of them vacation-bound families with young children in tow.

But the normal din of happy chatter was missing. Folks stood in check-in lines quietly.

At boarding gates -- especially TWA's -- goodbye hugs and kisses seemed to last a little longer. Many people watched airplanes safely take off before leaving the gate.

"Am I nervous? Yes, but if you ask me, it's probably safer to fly right after a bad tragedy like this one. You can bet the airlines and security people are double-checking everything," said James Rose, a San Diego car dealer awaiting a flight home.

His was a common refrain at the airport, where more than 31,000 passengers travel daily.

Michele Rinaldo, a nurse from Pottsville, Pa., who was waiting to board a flight to New Orleans, put it this way: "When you hear about a tragedy like this one, you aren't going to hear about a similar one the very next day. Today's probably a pretty safe day to fly."

Air passengers like Rinaldo thought that the TWA crash had probably triggered stricter security measures at big airports.

But that isn't the case, at least not yet, said Nicholas J. Schaus, deputy administrator at BWI.

The airport has been operating with tougher security measures than normal for "several months" as a result of a Federal Aviation Administration order, said Schaus.

That same order affects other international airports for several reasons, including the Olympic Games, the trials of domestic and international terrorism suspects, and the bombings in Saudi Arabia, security experts said.

Schaus said he couldn't disclose details of what the FAA order is requiring BWI to do.

However, he did say that many of the security measures would not be noticeable to the public.

Travelers will continue to be asked to show identification before checking in and boarding airplanes, will see more scrutiny of their baggage and will face a lengthier check-in process.

Cars aren't allowed to sit for more than a few minutes in front of terminals.

"Even though we are not under any new orders from the FAA since the TWA crash, everyone's awareness of security has been ratcheted up a few notches," said Schaus.

Nelson Menendez, a Youngstown, Ohio, medical equipment consultant who flew from Pittsburgh to Baltimore yesterday on business, was among those who said the TWA crash didn't cause him to consider canceling -- though his wife was anxious.

"You can see that people are a bit tense on the planes and in the airports. They're not talking much. It was very quiet on my flight to Baltimore," he said. "But I fly a lot and have a lot of confidence in the airlines. It's safer than driving.

"The way I look at flying is that it's a big lottery. Only you're hoping your number doesn't come up."

Pub Date: 7/19/96

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