Major airlines prepare to take off amid tighter security

By Brad Foss

Associated Press

Federal aviation officials reopened the nation’s skies for travel today, warning that it could take days for schedules to return to normal and promising tough, new security measures.

Major airlines were expected to begin limited flight schedules today, but things got off to a slow start.

At Montreal’s Dorval Airport, all flights to the United States were still listed as canceled as the 11 a.m. EDT resumption time passed.

“We’re being told that there are no flights on Northwest. Right now, they can’t guarantee anything for a week,” said Ana Belda of Alicante, Spain, who was waiting with her husband, two children and two friends for a flight to Detroit.

The U.S. aviation system was shut down Tuesday after hijacked planes were crashed into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field.

Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta said commercial and private planes were allowed to fly starting at 11 a.m. EDT. He said airports and flights would be resumed on a case-by-case basis – and only after stringent security measures are in place.

The Federal Aviation Administration has ordered security increased to its highest level since the Persian Gulf War in 1991. Mineta urged passengers to allow ample time to deal with the new procedures.

“There will be some inconveniences, but safety will be the first element of our system to be restored,” Mineta said in a statement released by the White House.

Some of the planes that were diverted Tuesday were allowed to fly Wednesday, carrying only those passengers who had begun the journey. More were expected to leave Thursday.

At least some regularly scheduled United Airlines flights were expected to begin at 7 p.m. EDT Thursday, and some scheduled flights on American Airlines and TWA after 4 p.m. EDT.

“We expect the return of our full schedule of service to take several days,” American said.

Delta Air Lines said “very limited operations” would start sometime after noon EDT Thursday. Continental had canceled all regularly scheduled flights for the day, but planned to offer special service in cities such as San Francisco and Cleveland, “where we see demand,” spokeswoman Erica Roy said.

At Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, passengers awaited word of when they might reach their destinations.

“Considering this devastation, we have no complaints,” said Louise Norton, 67, who was trying to get from Sea-Tac to Raleigh, N.C. “We would love to be home, but a lot of people would love to have their families.”

Mineta made his decision after a series of meetings Wednesday with White House aides, Cabinet officials, the Federal Aviation Administration, industry and law enforcement. He called the decision “good news for travelers, for the airlines and for our economy.”

Most of the nation’s air fleet was grounded Tuesday morning following the hijackings of jets from Boston, Newark, N.J., and Washington’s Dulles airport. Even as the FAA imposed new restrictions on passengers, airlines and airports, some members of Congress were pointing to security lapses.

Mineta has proposed a series of tough measures, including a ban on curbside check-ins and an increased police presence in airports. The Justice Department said one option is to put law enforcement personnel on planes, a practice that has been used in the past.

Regardless of whether that step is taken, U.S. marshals, the U.S. Customs Service and the Border Patrol will be part of increased security on the ground at airports, Justice Department spokeswoman Mindy Tucker said.

The Air Transport Association said the FAA should consider taking over the passenger screening process rather than leaving it to the airlines.

“When we are dealing with terrorism, there are functions and responsibilities that are beyond our abilities and responsibilities,” the airlines’ trade group said in a statement.

FAA Administrator Jane Garvey was expected to brief the Massachusetts congressional delegation Thursday on security at Logan Airport in Boston, where two of the hijacked planes originated.

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