- The Washington Times - Monday, October 21, 2002

Security checks, random searches, new airline ticket fees and other hassles since the September 11 attacks have kept many people off planes and on the road, particularly for short trips.
The number of people flying commercially between 200 miles and 400 miles dropped 22 percent in the year after the attacks, according to a survey by D.K. Shifflet & Associates Ltd. in Falls Church.
"It's just easier to get into your car and go," said Chief Executive Doug Shifflet, whose agency surveys 45,000 households each month to assess their travel patterns.
AAA, formerly the American Automobile Association, says the number of TripTiks personalized trip routings for club members it prepared rose by almost one-quarter in the first six months of this year.
The air travel industry has yet to fully recover from the attacks. From January to September of this year, the major carriers had 397.4 million passengers, an 8.3 percent drop from the 433.3 million reported during the same nine-month period a year earlier. The industry also has cut 80,000 jobs.
While some of the drop in passengers is because of fear, experts say many others are choosing ground transportation over planes to avoid airport hassles.
A 250-mile trip on interstate highways takes about 4 hours by car. A plane makes the trip in less than an hour. But if a passenger has a 30-minute ride to and from the airports and must arrive two hours early, the time savings is minimal.
Then there are other air travel headaches: restricted parking, vehicle searches, $30 extra for a third bag, security fees, security checkpoint lines and random searches at the gate.
Daniel Stillman, an operations contractor for Verizon Global Solutions, recently sat in the waiting area at Washington's main train station, Union Station, and ticked off the reasons he was not flying back to his home in Edison, N.J.
The train is faster because he does not have to leave time to wait in security lines, he said, and he can book a trip at the last minute without paying more. He can use his time better on a train. And, he added, "We all know the terrorists could attack in a train station, but people feel a bit more safe when they're on the ground."
Since September 11, Amtrak has been carrying more passengers between New York and Washington than the airlines.
Donald Carty, chief executive of American Airlines, told Congress last month that the industry is losing an estimated $2.5 billion annually "due to the many air travelers that have often decided not to fly in order to avoid the much publicized security hassles at airports."
The news is not all bad for air travelers. Flight delays are down, largely because the number of flights has fallen, from 710,000 in June 2001 to 664,000 the following June, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.
But Michael Wascom, spokesman for the Air Transport Association, which represents large airlines, said the industry recognizes it has a public relations problem and is looking for ways to improve travel.
Airlines want the government to approve a program that would give "smart cards" plastic ID cards with embedded computer chips to passengers who have submitted to background checks, allowing them to pass more easily through security checkpoints, he said.
"Everyone is not an equal threat," Mr. Wascom said.
The Transportation Security Administration, created in response to the terrorist attacks, is trying to balance security with customer service.
Since taking over the agency in July, agency chief James Loy has changed the rules to allow air travelers to carry drinks through metal detectors and eliminated the requirement that ticket agents ask passengers if they have packed and kept a close eye on their baggage.
The agency also is working on a pilot program to eliminate random gate screenings.
As the government deploys a new federal work force at 425 of the nation's 429 commercial airports, screening should become a smoother, more predictable experience, the agency says.
It is hard to know what to expect.
Passengers may face vehicle searches, long lines at passenger-screening checkpoints or random searches at the gate. Carry-on items that make it through security at one airport get inspected at another.
David Tulin, a diversity consultant from Philadelphia, prefers taking Amtrak between Boston and Washington to flying because of hassles.
"You've lost the predictability of when you arrive at airports and how you're going to be treated," he said.

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