Bush to Pacify Hectic Holiday Air Travel; Clears Military Routes to Limit East Coast Delays

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Byline: Tom Ramstack, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

President Bush yesterday announced a plan to reduce airport delays by opening military "Thanksgiving Express Lanes" to commercial flights on the East Coast during peak travel periods.

The plan also suspends nonessential airport maintenance work that could interfere with movement of passengers.

The Federal Aviation Administration developed the plan to handle the nearly 27 million passengers expected to fly during the 12-day Thanksgiving travel period that begins today. The same plan would be used for Christmas.

Delays would be reduced for Washington-area passengers if they fly to airports in New York, New Jersey or Philadelphia or have connecting flights through those airports, said Jonathan Dean, spokesman for Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport.

"The measures announced today may have some benefit for airports that experience chronic delays," Mr. Dean said yesterday.

About 75 percent of U.S. flight delays are associated with trips leaving or entering Northeast airports, particularly in New York, New Jersey and Philadelphia, according to the FAA.

Airports in the Baltimore-Washington area tend to have only moderate-to-light delays during busy travel times, Mr. Dean said.

Airline executives testified before Congress yesterday that they would have more employees and equipment available for the holiday travel season.

The FAA also proposed to double the compensation that airlines must pay passengers who are bumped from overbooked flights.

"We can do better, we can have an aviation system that's improved," Mr. Bush said yesterday. "Airports are clearly crowded, travelers are being stranded and flights are delayed, sometimes with a full load of passengers sitting in the runway for hours."

The on-time flight rate for U.S. airlines fell to 73 percent this year, the worst performance since the FAA started keeping records in 1995. …