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Airline Industry Will Pay the Price for the Foiled Terror Plot

August 10, 2006 at 6:45 PM EDT
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JUDY WOODRUFF, NewsHour Special Correspondent: For more
about these changes and their impact, I’m joined by Keith Alexander. He’s a
reporter and columnist who covers the airline industry for the Washington Post.

Keith Alexander, thank you very much for joining us. Put
yourself in the role of a passenger. Going forward, what do you expect to be
different when you’re getting ready to fly, either into or out of the United States?

KEITH ALEXANDER, Washington Post: Well, Judy, there are
several things that will be different. First of all, airlines are encouraging
travelers to get to the airport at least an additional hour. On flights within
the United States, that
means two hours as opposed to one hour; flights out of the United States, that means three
hours as opposed to two hours. So from that standpoint, definitely it’s going
to create some tension.

Also, travelers should definitely look at the Web sites of
their airlines to find out if their flight is operating, because, right now,
airlines are pretty much in a wait-and-see mode going out from Friday and
through the weekend.

And mostly, Judy, what’s also going to be different is their
carry-on bags. Flying out of the United States
into, let’s say, Great
Britain, you are not allowed to carry
laptops, or cell phones, or BlackBerries. Obviously, you can’t carry anything
liquid.

Same thing occurs for here in the U.S. You can’t carry anything
liquid, although you can carry in your carry-on bag your equipment, as in a
BlackBerry and cell phone.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So just to be clear, if you’re going to and
from Great Britain,
BlackBerries, which are the little e-mail devices, laptops, anything, any other
– what about iPods?

KEITH ALEXANDER: Anything electronic, Judy, has got to be
stowed, put in your checked-in bag, because again, with this terrorism threat,
one of the questions was it would be activated by something electrical. So
again, going into Europe, all of those
electrical devices have got to be checked in your bags.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Now is that all destinations in Europe or
just Great Britain?

KEITH ALEXANDER: That’s all destinations, even going through
Europe. For example, let’s say you’re flying
from the U.S. into Europe on
to, let’s say, Asia or an African country. You
still have to adhere to those European guidelines. Remember, Europe is under a
code red, which is a much higher alert than in the U.S., so they are at the
highest of alerts in Europe.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, let’s talk about the ban on liquids, as
again these are any flights anywhere in the United States. So we’re talking any
– you know, we’ve heard it on the program up until now — hair spray, hand
lotion, anything?

KEITH ALEXANDER: Shampoo, gel…

JUDY WOODRUFF: Cup of coffee?

KEITH ALEXANDER: … cup of coffee. Judy, a lot of people –
I have talked to some travelers, and they are saying — and some airlines –
and they’ve noticed that people are getting through security, and they’re going
to a restaurant or a concession stand and buying a bottle of water or something
of that nature. And they believe they can carry that onto the aircraft.

No, you cannot. You have to drink it there at the gate. You
will not be allowed to carry any type of liquid, any type of beverage
whatsoever onto a plane. However, if you have baby formula or if you have
medicine, and on the medicine bottle your name is printed, they will allow you
to have that.

So it’s going to be a very interesting time. And airlines
are already preparing for that. I talked to some people like Gate Gourmet,
which provides meals and beverages for the airlines, and they are already
putting additional beverages on planes just to prepare these people,
passengers, so when they get there they can actually have something actually on
the aircraft.

Frustrations running rampant

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, let's get a little more specific. Weheard Secretary Chertoff say a little bit earlier on the program that, ifyou're carrying baby formula, you have a baby with you, if you're carrying somemedicine or some sort of substance that you need to take for medical reasons,he said you need to have the prescription. How consistently is this beingenforced? Do you have a sense of that?

KEITH ALEXANDER: Well, Judy, that's one of the biggestfrustrations among travelers who I have spoken to already. It seems that therules are enforced sporadically airport to airport. It depends on who isrunning the line.

The airlines are deferring to the TSA. And the TSA, they havetheir rules in place on the Web site, but it seems that, depending on theairport and depending on who is running that line, that's the rules that theyfollow. It seems to vary from airport to airport. So there's a lot offrustration, again, which is all the more reason, Judy, that passengers reallyshould get to the airport early so that they can find out exactly what theyhave to do.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You said that some flights are beingcancelled or may be cancelled. Why is that?

KEITH ALEXANDER: Well, this is what's happening. A lot ofthe airlines are facing delays, such long delays, an hour-, two-hour delay. They'resitting on the runway for a long period of time.

And what happens is that the flight attendants and the crew,they run up against their flight times. There's only a certain amount of timesthat these crew can actually fly. And once it gets into overtime, then theyhave to come back and get a whole new crew or they have to cancel the flight.

So that's what's happening. These flights are being delayedfor so long that the crew is actually into overtime and which is actuallyagainst FAA standards.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Two quick things. Keith, you've been on thetelephone all day with these airlines. What are you sensing out there? Iseverybody calm? Is it chaotic? What are you finding?

KEITH ALEXANDER: Yes, Judy. You know, first of all, thiscouldn't have come at a worse time for the airline industry. I mean, theairlines were preparing for their strongest year since 9/11, in terms ofprofits. The second quarter was a great quarter for them. All of the airlines,even United, made some money.

But now what they're concerned about and what they're hopingis that this is just a blip. They're hoping that travelers don't becomefrustrated, don't become fearful in the next coming weeks and not fly.

Right now, the airlines that I talked to say this is reallyjust seen as a thunderstorm or a very operational system quirk, a blip on thescreen. But if this lasts through the next couple of weeks, and no one reallyseems to know how long these long security lines are going to last, that's whatairlines are most concerned about: How long will this last?

JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, Keith Alexander, he is a reporterand a columnist covering the airline industry for the Washington Post. Keith,thank you very much.

KEITH ALEXANDER: Thank you, Judy.