Air travel changes for Alaskans

Despite attempts to return to life as usual, air travel will not be the same—forever. This will continue to affect Alaskans who depend on air travel to stay connected with the rest of the world. In addition to new Federal Aviation Administration regulations in response to the Sept. 11 terrorist acts, more changes and a few exemptions have been implemented at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport.

“…Safety will be the first element of our system to be restored,” Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta said in a White House press release. At the Anchorage airport, increased safety means more law enforcement agents present in the airport at all times.

“We always do more than the minimum,” Corky Calbwell of airport community relations said. “Moral is good here. Yes, we always do more.”

Calbwell says he believes passengers will probably be more concerned now about flying; however, he was confident about the status of all employees at the Anchorage airport.

Two days after the FAA grounded flights, the Anchorage airport looked like a large, empty school on a Sunday morning. Echoes of footsteps could be heard through terminal corridors that, until Tuesday, were full of people. Only a scant few could be seen waiting patiently for information about rerouted flights.

The slow process of air-travel reorganization is affecting many Alaskans. Kodiak resident Debbie Marlar didn't plan to spend an extra $600 on hotel fees while stranded in Anchorage for three days. The delay is also cutting into her vacation leave from work.

“I believe there will be a lot more waiting and increased expense because of the security measures they're going to be making from now on,” she said. “Yes [it's worth it], whatever it takes to make it safe again.”

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Because of unique conditions, the Anchorage airport was one of only 25 that were allowed to charter any flights at all. Among those flights allowed to take off were planes assigned to retrieve the over 100 hunters who were out in the Alaska Bush during the East Coast attacks. Flights also carrying emergency medicine and human organs were allowed to fly through Alaska skies.

The authorization for those flights came late Wednesday after Gov. Tony Knowles and Sen. Ted Stevens made pleas to FAA Administrator Jane Garvey and Mineta.

Heavy restrictions were placed on each flight. Pilots who flew to pick up hunters had to first receive individual permission from the FAA before take off.

It will be a while before the airport is running full-speed. For now, limited flights are allowed to resume provided they meet FAA guidelines. Airports nationwide have suspended the travel of pets and unaccompanied minors until further notice.

At the Anchorage airport, there is now limited access beyond the security checkpoints and increased law enforcement personnel. All mail and non-freighter cargo was suspended for 48 hours starting Wednesday. Among the stalled mail in Juneau were state employee paychecks and unemployment checks.

One suggested safety measure would force all airport restaurants located beyond the security checkpoints to use plastic silverware from now on. Calbwell could not confirm that information, but he did say, “It's probably true.”

Once airport operations resume, the definition of normal transportation will have changed. Currently, all curbside and off-airport check-ins are not allowed. If you're going to be flying anywhere in the near future, check the status of your flight before you go to the airport and expect long lines and delays.

Only passengers with tickets in hand will be allowed to pass beyond airport metal detectors.