- The Washington Times - Friday, September 12, 2003

The September 11 anniversary is shaping up as just another midweek travel day for airlines as their passengers shed the jitters that depressed customer numbers last year.

“It’s what we would normally see in the midweek travel time,” said American Airlines spokesman Carlo Bertolini, referring to the number of passenger bookings for Thursday. “There hasn’t been anything I would call noticeable.”

Last year, some airlines cut back on scheduled flights and dropped ticket prices as bookings fell about 10 percent during the week of the one-year anniversary.

This year, the only differences in fares reported by airlines are normal post-Labor Day sales.

“We haven’t seen any change in our booking patterns this year. Normal week, normal day,” said John Kennedy, Delta Air Lines spokesman.

However, the definition of “normal” is far different than two years ago, when terrorists slammed hijacked jets into the Pentagon, New York’s World Trade Center and the Pennsylvania countryside.

Now, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and other branches of the government have moved into the giant Department of Homeland Security, which encompasses parts of 22 smaller agencies. The airport screener work force has grown from zero to 49,600.

Homeland Security officials say their personnel will be out in full force this week to watch for attacks against the country’s airways, infrastructure, commerce or borders.

“Our screeners will remain at their highest level of vigilance,” TSA spokesman Brian Turmail said.

The only difference that passengers might notice Thursday is a pause for silence by screeners at the nation’s airports at 8:46 a.m., the exact time two years ago when the first plane crashed into the World Trade Center.

Otherwise, Mr. Turmail said, “Any changes we would make are likely changes passengers wouldn’t see.”

The most recent changes, which have included an advisory to watch for women whose shoes might be packed with explosives, are guided by efforts to fight “complacency,” Mr. Turmail said.

“The bad guys are out there, and it’s safe to assume they’re testing the system,” he said.

The advisory warns of an increase in terrorist “chatter.” It includes a list of potential terrorist attacks, including toxic aerosols released in densely populated areas, deadly viruses placed in food and water supplies, or foreign airliners hijacked offshore but directed at U.S. targets.

TSA screeners are aided by high-tech security equipment to search for bombs, toxic chemicals, weapons, metal and criminals.

They also are assisted by passengers who know that terrorism is a constant threat during air travel since September 11, 2001.

“It’s a different world,” said Julie King, Continental Airlines spokeswoman. “I think travelers are more aware and they’re doing what they need to do to get through the airport security.”

Homeland security is expected to take on more urgency in coming months as it heats up as a presidential campaign issue.

Last week, Sen. John Kerry, a Democratic presidential candidate from Massachusetts, accused Mr. Bush of rushing into war with Iraq, leaving Americans isolated and more vulnerable to terrorist attacks.

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