Getting off the Ground
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ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Lines were long at United ticket counters at O’Hare Airport at 6:30 this morning. Passengers waiting were a mix of those who had planned to travel today and others still trying to get home after last week’s shutdown.
SPOKESPERSON: What time is your flight?
SPOKESPERSON: No, it’s okay. You should be okay.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Surgeon Ramon Schmidt had been held up for three days in London.
DR. RAMON SCHMIDT: I’m a surgeon and have a full week’s schedule. I’m on call today, but obviously I’m not there to take calls.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Heightened security measures were evident: Sniffer dogs now working 12-hour shifts at O’Hare; no curbside checking, much to the dismay of skycaps.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: So what do you think about it?
SPOKESMAN: Not much.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Frequent traveler Wayne Marshall had to stop at the ticket counter to pick up a boarding pass in place of his e-ticket.
WAYNE MARSHALL: We used to be able to go right in to, like, a members’ club and check in and get on your plane right away, and now you’ve got to go through the desk and get your boarding pass before you can even get through security.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Leigh Maraviglia had hoped to kiss her daughter good-bye at the gate as she flew off to her first semester of college. But that was no longer allowed – only ticketed passengers beyond security.
LEIGH MARAVIGLIA: I’m scared. I’m scared. I told her that she needs to call me as soon as she gets to her end destination.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: But Bob Wasner says security is not as tight at O’Hare as it was getting out of Copenhagen yesterday.
BOB WASNER: They unloaded all the baggage out onto the tarmac and we had to then claim our baggage and put it through the x-ray, standing there. And then, our hand luggage, they checked everything in our hand luggage at the same time.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: All luggage at O’Hare– not just carry-ons– is now being put through x-ray machines– part of the new reality, says airline expert Joe Schwieterman.
JOE SCHWIETERMAN: You can tell that times have changed, yes. Passengers are much more patient. We’re seeing hand-searching of bags. We’re seeing some bags run through several times. It’s clearly a new environment for the traveler.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: The morning rush ended abruptly at 8:00 A.M., and terminals usually packed with Monday morning travelers began to look empty again. United, American, and Continental say they will cut their schedules by 20% in direct response to the terrorist attack. There are few canceled flights on the flight information boards. The airlines’ new schedules simply don’t include flights previously listed for today. O’Hare was operating at about 60% of its normal capacity. 2,700 flights was the previous daily average; about 1,620 planes took off today. United had about half of its flights in the air; American, about 65%. Schwieterman says recovery from a complete shutdown takes time.
JOE SCHWEITERMAN: It’s still a bit of a mess. It’s probably going to be two or three weeks before the flight schedules and some of the aircraft maintenance cycles can be put back on some sense of normalcy.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Schwieterman says the airlines are now trying to strike the right balance between the need to get their planes back in the air and the reality of reduced consumer demand.