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TIA security is intrusive, welcome

By JEAN HELLER and STEVE HUETTEL

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 15, 2001


TAMPA -- Michael Gilot is an example of the flying future.

TAMPA -- Michael Gilot is an example of the flying future.

Gilot, a St. Louis resident trying to get home Friday in the face of an aviation crisis and a tropical storm, watched as a Southwest Airlines ticket agent at Tampa International Airport searched his black-leather computer bag.

The agent peeked in pouches, unzipped compartments and patted down the lining. Twice.

She took out every item and eyeballed it. She opened a paper-clip box. She uncapped a small bottle of white typewriter correction fluid, sniffed it and dipped her finger inside.

Then she returned the bag to Gilot. It was a carry-on. It would undergo a second examination at the security checkpoint at the Southwest gates.

"It's random, and it's intrusive, but I'm happy to have them do it," Gilot said later. "Really. It's no problem at all."

Security sorties through dirty laundry and private papers are only one of the changes that passengers at TIA and other U.S. airports will see as airlines struggle to cope with stringent new measures to protect the public from acts of terrorism.

The system, grounded on Tuesday, remained slow to get back on its feet. Between 10:30 p.m. Thursday and 1:30 p.m. Friday, there were 65 departures and arrivals at TIA, but many of the planes were ferry flights, with only a crew on board, to put the planes in the right places to resume regular service.

US Airways planned just one departure and six arrivals.

Delta hoped for 10 arrivals and five departures, Northwest one arrival and one departure.

United Air Lines had no flights Friday and planned only one on Saturday.

In a normal day, TIA has nearly 300 arrivals and 300 departures.

Meanwhile, it appeared the time-consuming tasks of spot luggage searches, personal screening and identity checks will mean cutbacks in the numbers of planes flying and the services available when airlines return to full operations.

American Airlines announced plans Friday to cut about 20 percent of its flights, saying the new security procedures make it impossible to operate the full schedule with any hope of on-time service.

Delta Air Lines will restore only 70 percent of its normal schedule of 2,500 daily flights.

On Wednesday, Delta president Frederick Reid told employees that the elimination of curb-side check-in and more thorough passenger screening would severely slow operations.

Delta, the No. 2 carrier at Tampa International, expected the measures to add 10 to 15 minutes to the time it takes to get planes ready to depart, he said.

Delta and US Airways said Friday they would fly unaccompanied minors only on non-stop flights to avoid children getting stuck if a connecting flight is late or canceled.

American already was cutting the size of its fleet before Tuesday in response to falling business travel, said Stuart Klaskin of Klaskin, Kushner & Co., a Coral Gables aviation consulting firm.

"I think this (security) thing is providing cover for carriers who were planning to go ahead with capacity cuts anyway," he said.

Many airlines and analysts expect the travel slump to get worse with people worried about flying.

Kevin Mitchell of the Business Travel Coalition said he surveyed businesses this week about travel plans and found that 62 percent of businesses planned to ban all travel this week, and 88 percent expected employees to voluntarily cut back on business travel in the coming weeks.

"This is the perfect storm for the airlines," he said. "Business travel went off the cliff. Excessive labor contracts were killing them, and now this."

Nationally, a return to normalcy was hampered by the continued closure or limited operations at some major airports. Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C., remained closed indefinitely, as did Logan International in Boston. New York's three airports closed overnight, not resuming operations until about noon Friday. Flights at Dulles International near Washington were sharply curtailed.

Meanwhile, the fallout of terrorist attacks on Tuesday continued.

TIA's limited operations stopped abruptly for about 15 minutes after a bomb threat that was specific to a model of car and location prompted the evacuation of the FAA control tower about 2:10 p.m. No matching car or bomb were found by airport police, and operations resumed.

Inside the terminal, would-be travelers waited and hoped that planes and crews would show up to fly them somewhere.

None of them helped Steve Hatch.

The physician recruiter from Orem, Utah, arrived at TIA at 10 a.m. Thursday and was still there 30 hours later as one flight after another that might have gotten him closer to Salt Lake City was canceled.

"I sat up most of the night," Hatch said Friday. "I'm an insomniac anyway, and I wanted to see what the storm would be like. It actually wasn't as bad as I expected, and I met some very nice people through the night."

Asked if he thought it would be a problem for airline passengers to get to their departure airports two hours before their flights, Hatch smiled and said, "It doesn't seem to have been a problem for me."

Tropical Storm Gabrielle had as much to do with the slow day as the halting startup of the aviation system. American Airlines flew four morning departures, then ferried its remaining aircraft out of harm's way, leaving no equipment for passenger flights.

"We have very limited and sporadic operations," said Ed Cooley, senior director for airport operations. "Absolutely, this weather is largely responsible. It would impede flights any time it happened."

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