TIA still paralyzed; travelers brace for hassles
By STEVE HUETTEL and JEAN HELLER
© St. Petersburg Times,
But once regular flights return, passengers in the Tampa Bay area and across the nation can count on this: The price of tighter security in the air will be less convenience and privacy.
At Tampa International Airport, inspectors will open the trunks and look inside every vehicle entering the short-term parking garage.
Checking luggage at the curb or off-airport locations will stop at all U.S. airports. Passengers could be screened with hand-held metal detectors and have their carry-on luggage opened and searched by hand.
The result? TIA travelers should arrive two hours ahead of time for domestic flights, longer for international trips, said airport and airline officials.
Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta said he couldn't even give a date when airlines could resume full service, which came to an unprecedented halt after Tuesday's terrorist attacks on the United States.
The Federal Aviation Administration on Wednesday lifted the ban for two kinds of flights. Airlines could take passengers whose flights were diverted Tuesday to their original destinations. Carriers also could move empty planes to airports that would make it easier for them to resume normal schedules. It wasn't clear late Wednesday whether any of those flights had happened.
Ed Cooley, TIA's senior director of operations, wouldn't speculate when airlines could resume regular schedules. But the airport was taking steps so flights could start today, he said.
Airport police with bomb-sniffing dogs evacuated the main terminal floor by floor to search for explosives and "undefined problems." Officials shut down the short-term parking garage at 2 p.m. and prepared it to reopen today.
"We hope to be in a position to start flying tomorrow, and that means having our security plan approved by the FAA," Cooley said.
At St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport, officials also prepared to meet more stringent FAA rules, said Elaine B. Smalling, airport marketing director.
A tow truck pulled more than a dozen cars from the short-term parking lot to keep unattended cars at least 300 feet from the terminal, a new precaution. Officials also boosted security patrols and will conduct more random baggage checks, Smalling said.
Airport bosses across the country, airline CEOs and officials with the FAA and FBI spent much of Wednesday hashing out what security plans had to be in place before commercial airliners could fly regular schedules again.
Southwest Airlines announced plans to start flying at noon Wednesday, then canceled all flights. Delta Air Lines was set to begin flying at 6 p.m., but later told employees the plans were postponed until 5 a.m. or noon today, and finally stopped making predictions.
By Wednesday afternoon, everyone apparently had agreed on security ground rules, most of which were used during the Persian Gulf War. They included:
Allowing only ticketed passengers through security checkpoints. At TIA, stations were set up in the main terminal at shuttle car lobbies. Only people with tickets for travel or e-ticket confirmation documents will be allowed on the shuttle to airside buildings.
Passengers won't be permitted to bring knives or cutting tools on planes. FAA rules previously allowed pocket knives with blades 4 inches or smaller. Hijackers of the four jets were armed with knives or box cutters, government officials said.
Travelers cannot check luggage with skycaps at airport curbs or remote locations such as hotels. TIA is halfway through a huge terminal renovation that will, among other improvements, widen the curbsides to handle more people checking bags.
Increased security checks of people with access to secure areas, including flight crews and aircraft cleaners, fuelers, bag handlers -- whether they are employed by the airlines or contractors.
More, and more visible, patrols of terminals by airport police and other employees.
Congressional leaders and airline officials mentioned other measures the FAA and airports were loathe to discuss.
Armed sky marshals, for instance. Rep. John Mica, R-Winter Park, who leads the Transportation and Infrastructure Aviation Subcommittee, told reporters that he requested the marshals, eliminated in 1995.
"I don't know how many tomorrow, where, or on what flights." he said. "I've been assured that in addition to not only sky marshals, there will be other security which I'm not allowed to talk about."
In a teleconference with employees Wednesday, Delta president Frederick Reid said airlines will conduct "rigorous" computer profiling of passengers designed to identify potential terrorists. Anyone matching the profile would have their luggage searched by hand, he said.
Southwest told employees in a recorded message that flight crews should expected to be screened with hand-held metal detectors or patted down, perhaps more than three times. Bomb-sniffing dogs or inspectors might go through planes before takeoff, the message said.
While the measures sound thorough, Israel requires much tougher scrutiny.
Any foreign visitor taking off from Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv must arrive two hours before departure, pass all luggage through a monster metal detector, open carry-on bags and submit to interrogation by a no-nonsense screener.
Some sample questions: Where have you been in Israel? Whom did you meet? Did you go to the occupied territories of the West Bank and Gaza? Are you carrying any gifts? The new U.S. security measures will mean delays, said Reid, the Delta president. Ticket counters will handle 30 percent more passengers without curbside check-in, he told employees, and Delta will add 10 to 15 minutes to flight schedules to make up for security delays.
Passengers such as Ron and Caroline Ancell of Tucson, Ariz., waiting from a flight out of Tampa on Wednesday, say they won't mind. But the new precautions wouldn't have prevented Tuesday's terrorism or another act like it, Ron Ancell said.
"Nobody can protect us from someone willing to die," he said.
- Times staff writers John Balz and Chris Tisch contributed to this report. Information from Times wire services also was used.
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