Airports note less air rage after Sept. 11

Thursday, March 21, 2002

BANGOR, Maine -- Depending on your view, Bangor International Airport is the last major U.S. airport for jets headed across the Atlantic or the first for incoming flights. Either way, it's a convenient place to dislodge unruly passengers on international flights.

Before Sept. 11, that happened about once a month. But since the terrorist attacks, air rage has forced only one jetliner to be diverted to Bangor. That's good news for airlines, airline workers and air travelers -- but a mixed blessing for airports in places like Bangor and Newfoundland, Canada, because landing fees from diverted jets meant a small but tidy profit.

"It's a bonus, let's put it that way. It's a bonus when we have those flights," said Larry Pittman, manager of Canada's airport in Goose Bay, Newfoundland, which is on the mainland in Labrador.

Since Sept. 11, the only air rage incident that has forced a plane to land in Bangor involved a passenger who slapped a flight attendant. Newfoundland's four key airports at Gander, St. John's, Goose Bay and Stephenville have recorded no air rage-related landings since Sept. 11.

The Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport in Alaska, which plays the same role for Pacific flights, also has seen no passenger jets diverted for air rage since the attacks, said Morton Plumb Jr., airport director.

Many airline industry observers believe air rage is down after Sept. 11, but federal statistics on the trend are incomplete.

In Bangor, it's a far cry from the international attention that came when three flights were diverted in little more than a month in 1999. Two were diverted for drunken and abusive passengers, and a third passenger went berserk when a plastic bag of cocaine he ingested broke open.

Last May, the airport had two air rage incidents in the same day, one a Britannia Airways Boeing 767, the other a British Airways Boeing 747. Three passengers ended up in the local lockup.

The landing fees can be lucrative. A small corporate jet might pay as little as $18 to land in Bangor, but a Boeing 747 would pay $700, and other fees and services could bring the sum to $2,500 or more.

Last year, the Bangor airport made $50,000 in providing services to jets that were forced to land because of air rage passengers, officials said.

Revenues from flights diverted for air rage were just a small part of the Bangor airport's international revenues of $1.8 million last year, officials said. But every little bit is important, especially since the airport is seeing fewer regularly scheduled international flights.

Modern jetliners don't have to stop as often for fuel, so most of them continue flying right over Bangor. Those flights dropped 45 percent from 1,674 in the 1997 fiscal year to 934 last year, officials said.

Against that backdrop, the airport has aggressively marketed its ability to handle any type of situation, including medical emergencies, refuelings, mechanical problems -- and air rage.

But air rage dollars were never something the airport came to depend on, said Rebecca Hupp, airport manager. "We never plan on air rage as the foundation for our budget," she said.

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