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Echo of 9/11 empties airport

An airport official says it's more about people marking Sept. 11, 2001, than a fear of flying.

By JEAN HELLER, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 12, 2002

An airport official says it's more about people marking Sept. 11, 2001, than a fear of flying.

TAMPA -- A virtually empty Tampa International Airport looked eerily similar Wednesday to Sept. 11 last year after terrorist attacks prompted an unprecedented closure of U.S. airspace and emptied American airports.

Only a few undaunted souls waited to board flights at TIA on Wednesday. Restaurants had few diners. Shop clerks talked more frequently to one another than to customers.

"I really don't think this is about people being afraid to fly; I think it's about people wanting to be home today with their families," said Louis Miller, executive director of the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority.

For whatever reason, passengers stayed away. By noon, American Airlines had canceled six of its 21 daily flights, and those that took off did so with loads of 30 or 35 passengers. US Airways canceled two, and Southwest Airlines canceled one.

On the other hand, many flights coming into TIA arrived early.

"There's no traffic up there," said airport spokeswoman Brenda Geoghagan.

Dozens of people who listened to Wednesday-morning radio and television rebroadcasts of last year's terrorist events apparently were confused about the airport's status.

"People are hearing the reports from last year that the airports were closed, and they're calling to ask if it's really true," said Brenda Perez, who was at the Aviation Authority's reception desk Wednesday. "Obviously, the airport is open."

It might as well not have been.

Miller said he got to work at 5 a.m. to prepare for a ceremony commemorating the day.

"Airsides A and F (where the principal tenants are Southwest and US Airways) are normally very busy early, and it was deadly quiet," he said. "There was just nothing happening. Very eerie."

Jeff McClure, an insurance executive from Chicago, was at TIA with a friend who was flying today.

"I'm flying tomorrow," McClure said. "But it isn't because of Sept. 11. It's just my business schedule. I was in the air last Sept. 11 when all the planes were forced to land. I wouldn't mind flying today."

Ted and Mary Lee Bliss of Sun City Center, on their way to Indiana for a class reunion, didn't agree on the wisdom of flying on Sept. 11.

"He doesn't have any concern, but I have a little concern," Mary Lee Bliss said. "But then, I've always got a little concern. I'm not a great flier."

Ted Bliss said the Sept. 11 date didn't register with his wife when she made the reservations.

"I think it's probably especially safe today," he said.

When told that most planes were flying with 75 percent or more seats open, he said:

"Maybe we can get two bags of peanuts."

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