2 teams to develop plans for air travel safety

Transportation chief calls for completion of review in two weeks

Terrorism Strikes America

The Nation

September 17, 2001|By Marcia Myers | Marcia Myers,SUN STAFF

With airlines still flying a reduced schedule and struggling financially, Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta announced yesterday that he wants a group of private experts to recommend quickly how air travel can be made safer.

Mineta named six people, including pilots and airline industry executives, to two "rapid-response" teams he wants to make a "comprehensive review" of commercial aviation security and provide recommendations within two weeks.

One three-member task force will concentrate on finding ways to keep terrorists from gaining access to jetliner cockpits, while the other will focus on improving airport security.

"Our efforts must now turn to developing long-term, sustainable security improvements within our airports and the aircrafts themselves," Mineta said in a written statement.

Nationally, about two-thirds the normal air traffic had resumed by yesterday, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. About 540 of the 750 normally scheduled flights were handled by Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

Long lines continued to jam ticket counters at area airports, though, as passengers underwent time-consuming new check-in and baggage screening requirements.

At Washington Dulles International Airport, passengers at one ticket counter endured a six-hour wait.

At BWI, as many as 200 people waited to check in at the America West counter yesterday morning, with the line extending to the international pier.

Concerned that security delays would cause people to miss flights, BWI began recommending Saturday that travelers arrive four hours before departure.

"The amazing part is that most people are not complaining," BWI spokesman John White said. "People understood that these things would be necessary when they came to the airport. And many were calling to check two and three times on their flight before they even got here."

Lines at the ticket counters included not only people trying to check-in for flights, but also those trying to buy tickets or rebook flights that had been canceled.

Most airlines stationed employees along the lines to try to weed out those who needed to hurry to flights from those with less urgent deadlines. Lines shortened later in the day, airport officials said.

Washington's Reagan National Airport remained closed, and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld added his voice to those who said the facility's proximity to the Capitol, White House and other Washington institutions is too great a security risk.

"We have airports at Dulles. We have airports at Baltimore, which give a great deal more time for a fighter interceptor to do something," he said.

Delta Air Lines joined several of its counterparts yesterday in significantly reducing scheduled service. Officials with the nation's third-largest airline said they will be forced to consider job cuts unless Congress provides federal help to see airlines through the crisis.

On Saturday, American Airlines, Northwest Airlines and United Airlines announced schedule cuts of 20 percent, and Continental Airlines said it would lay off 12,000 employees

A proposal to provide the airlines with emergency aid failed to get through the House of Representatives during the weekend but is expected to resurface in Congress this week.

Vice President Dick Cheney said yesterday on NBC's Meet the Press that the Bush administration is open to helping the airline industry staunch financial losses growing out of the hijackings and two-day air travel shutdown.

In another response to travelers' fears since Tuesday's terrorist jetliner attacks in New York and Washington, Amtrak officials said they too plan to step up security on trains and in stations.

"We recognize that public transportation is not immune from acts of terrorism," Amtrak spokeswoman Karen Dunn said.

Although an announcement will be made soon, Dunn said, no timetable has been set. Some security changes have been made, she added. She declined to elaborate, other than to note increased police presence in rail stations.

With airlines slowly rebounding, Amtrak is cutting back on the beefed-up service it offered last week and will revert to its normal schedule this morning. Train service had been expanded as much as 30 percent between Washington and New York to accommodate travelers left stranded after airports were shut down Tuesday.

"If necessary, we'll look at putting some trains back," the Amtrak spokeswoman said.

Some long-distance trips remain heavily booked, however, and Amtrak is advising customers to make reservations early.

Wire services contributed to this article.

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