Longer delays aren't the norm on first day

Saturday, January 19, 2002

Airlines began new baggage screening techniques at the nation's airports Friday morning, but passengers who showed up fearing the worst encountered few delays.

A law went into effect Friday requiring airlines to check bags for explosives -- either by machine, hand or bomb-sniffing dog, or by matching each piece of checked luggage to a passenger on board. As the travel day got into full swing, there were no reports of major problems.

At the United Airlines check-in counter at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, an airline employee carried passengers' luggage to a new screening machine, temporarily set up outside the gate area. It was the first time the machine, installed a few days ago, was used. Two security workers and a police officer watched a computer screen as the bags went through.

Passenger Carlos Garcia, an analyst with the U.S. General Accounting Office who lives in California, said the entire procedure took only 10 minutes.

"It was pretty easy so far," Garcia said. "As the lines get longer during the day, we'll have to see how it goes."

Slow at Logan

Delays varied at the three airports where the Sept. 11 hijackers departed. Boston's Logan Airport was filled with long, slow lines, but the queues at Newark International Airport were moving smoothly. At Dulles International Airport near Washington, some seasoned travelers appeared confused and frustrated as they were directed to a line for checked baggage inspection.

At Philadelphia International Airport, the flow of passengers through baggage check-in lines appeared to be close to normal. Lines in New York City's La Guardia and JFK airports, Detroit, Baltimore, Oakland, Calif., Las Vegas, Miami, Albuquerque, N.M., Tampa, Fla., Manchester, N.H., Columbus, Ohio, Omaha, Neb., Oklahoma City, and Pittsburgh also appeared to be flowing well.

In Boston, passenger Joanne Slotnik said she wished she had given herself more than 90 minutes for her flight home to Salt Lake City.

"This is the longest line I've waited in since September 11," said Slotnik, waiting with two dozen other people at a curbside check-in.

At 7:30 a.m. about 30 travelers stood in the curbside check-in line at a US Airways terminal in Philadelphia. More had complaints about the 30-degree temperature than any unusual delays.

"I didn't even know about this yesterday. If I had known, I would have left my house earlier," said Jill Hannagan, 44, a music teacher from Wilmington, Del., bound for Phoenix.

"I don't mind this at all. I'd much rather they be thorough, even if it takes a little longer. I just wish I had my hat."

At Atlantic City (N.J.) International Airport, Maureen Evans, 44, of Tampa, Fla., arrived at 6:30 a.m. for a 7:45 flight.

Feels more secure

"I've been arriving early since Sept. 11 anytime I'm flying," she said, standing in line at the ticket counter. "Of course it's a hassle," she said of the new screening. "But it makes me feel more secure."

Airport officials have said most airlines will use the bag-matching technique, which is designed to prevent someone from checking an explosives-laden bag and never boarding the plane. Critics have said that method would not stop a suicide bomber.

The Air Transport Association, a trade group representing major airlines, advised passengers to check airline Web sites for recommended airport arrival times, estimated wait times at check-in, identification requirements and baggage policies.

Still, the group said it did not expect serious delays.

"We're very hopeful we will not see chaos," said Carol Hallett, president of the Air Transport Association.

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