- The Washington Times - Friday, October 5, 2001

US Airways Shuttle Flight 6850 took off with a roar at 7 a.m. yesterday, the first commercial flight to leave Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.
With 79 passengers on board, it flew by the damaged Pentagon shortly after 7 and passed the remnants of the World Trade Center less than an hour later before landing at La Guardia Airport in New York.
Among the passengers on board the 150-seat US Airways shuttle were politicians, reporters and a few private travelers.
"Symbolically, it's important that these two ground zero areas are reunited," said Sen. George F. Allen, Virginia Republican, after passing through a checkpoint at Reagan Airport manned by armed federal marshals, the National Guard, X-ray machines and no-nonsense screening personnel.
The checkpoint included a $1 million CT scanner to detect bombs. Two bomb-sniffing dogs were led around on leashes by National Guardsmen. Passengers were required to show photo identification to ticket agents and again as they boarded the plane.
"The focus is getting the airport open and getting people working," said Republican Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore III.
Virginia lawmakers led the effort to reopen the airport after complaining to the Bush administration about damage to the local economy. About 10,000 employees working at the airport were laid off and the Washington economy lost $5.5 million a day after the terrorist attacks compelled the U.S. Transportation Department to order the airport closed for 23 days for security reasons.
Now the delegation wants the federal government to compensate employees and businesses for lost income during the closure.
Mr. Allen estimates airport employees have lost $26 million in wages so far.
"Clearly the federal government, because of its directive [to close the airport], should make up that difference," Mr. Allen said.
Many workers continue to lose wages while Reagan Airport reopens gradually. Several businesses were not able to reopen on just two days' notice, and the airport has waived tenants' rents for one month.
Travelers and airport employees alike yesterday stopped by Capital Image to pick up patriotic souvenirs like flags, and scarves, ties and pins with the flag pattern. Business was "definitely slower than usual," owner Xiaoyan Xie said, "but we're glad to have some sales. We're very happy to be open and I believe business will come back, maybe in three weeks."
Ms. Xie estimates to have incurred losses of about $30,000 while the airport was shut down.
"I'm pretty confident about this airport because it's so convenient," she said. "People like us much better than Dulles or BWI."
Business at the airport location, which is 4 years old, is better than that at Capital Image's other store inside the National Press Building in downtown Washington.
Yesterday, only 100 flights were scheduled. Before Sept. 11, about 900 flights operated out of the airport daily.
D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton also wants compensation for the economic damage.
"D.C. in particular has been devastated economically," she said. She estimates that 25 million fewer tourists will visit the area in the next few months, putting a huge dent in Washington's second-biggest industry.
The May family decided to be patriotic yesterday by changing its travel arrangements to Austin, Texas, to fly from Reagan Airport rather than Baltimore-Washington International Airport.
"We live in McLean and it's much more convenient to fly from National," said Scott May. He travels often for work and can get to Reagan Airport more easily than other regional airports.
The Mays spent a while at the United Airlines ticket counter checking in, but they did not let the wait frustrate them.
"I think it's better to control it, so they don't have bad things like this happen again," said Lisbeth May, referring to tightened security in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks.
United Airlines had only six flights yesterday, leaving at 7 and 10 a.m., and 1, 4, 5:30 and 6:30 p.m.
For one customer-service representative who wished to remain anonymous, yesterday was a long, slow day.
"It's been tiring, frustrating," she said. "Mostly because of the overloaded security issues."
She was glad to be back at work, however, much like her colleagues, who chatted in groups when there were no passengers to assist which was most of the time.
"I'm glad this airport is open again," said the service representative, who in her time off volunteered at the Pentagon cleanup. "I'm just happy to be back."
Most politicians yesterday also were pleased about the reopening.
"It's a good symbol for the American people to have Reagan National Airport open," Mr. Gilmore said. "We're very pleased about this."
When the airbus 320 left the runway, mild applause broke out among passengers as the pilot announced they were on the first flight out of Washington. Passengers were more subdued as they passed the Statue of Liberty and saw a hole in the New York skyline where the World Trade Center's twin towers once stood.
Among the passengers was Bob Vaughn, a Daisy, Md,. resident en route to a business meeting in Boston. He is a manager for Compaq Computer Corp.
One of his planned business trips was supposed to be to the World Trade Center Sept. 12.
He said he felt no qualms about flying again. "I think the security is very strong," he said. "I don't think we can let this stop how we do business."
Another passenger was Ricardo Coleman, an Upper Marlboro resident who is a Washington Metrobus driver. He was traveling to New York to take care of family matters.
"Flying beats driving," Mr. Coleman said. "With all the security, I don't think anyone is going to hijack the plane today."
An early afternoon return flight included Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat.
"I'm thrilled," Mr. Lieberman said. "I think it was the right decision" to reopen the airport. "Closing it would be a way of surrendering to terrorists."

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide