Pilots and Passengers Fly Again, Gingerly ; Congress Considers a Bailout of Struggling Industry, as New Security Measures Begin

Article excerpt

America's airlines are again taking to the skies - cautiously.

But last Tuesday's terror has permanently altered flight conditions. And the most pressing question in the new climate remains: Is it safe now to fly?

The answer affects everything from family vacations to business operations to airlines' very financial survival.

"You have to find a way to make it safe," says Glen Phillips, a retired TWA pilot who was himself hijacked in the early 1970s. "We rarely have equipment failures now. And the FAA continuously works to eliminate mistakes, so it is safe ... except ... for the terrorists."

And keeping them in check right now, he says, "seems like an insurmountable task."

Before reopening airports after an unprecedented nationwide shutdown, the FAA demanded complete evaluations of each level of security.

Over the weekend, Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta set up a task force that by Oct. 1 will report back on ways to tighten up further the nation's aviation security systems. In the meantime, the airlines are calling on the federal government to take over all security operations at the nation's airports.

While some pilots and aviation experts remain skeptical about levels of security, the airlines are confident the skies are safe with the changes made so far.

"It is safe to fly, or our planes would not be back in the air," says Michael Wascom of the Air Transport Association, the industry's main trade association.

The increased security is evident at the nation's airports, which are all open, with the exception of Washington's Reagan National.

Police armed with pistols and semiautomatic rifles now roam the terminals. Curbside check-in has been eliminated. And there are other, less visible changes.

Armed federal marshals in plainclothes will now be passengers on some flights, and their numbers are expected to increase dramatically.

Airport screeners will receive extra training and more scrutiny. Screening companies that fail the FAA tests will lose certification.

"I would hope this means we're finally changing the focus from passenger convenience to passenger safety," says one commercial airline pilot.

Flights are still limited, lines are long, and delays and cancellations are common. Yet most passengers are patient and grateful for the extra security.

Tom and Anne Featherstone spent 2-1/2 hours in line at LaGuardia just to check in at American Airlines.

"I'm not bothered by it at all," Mr. Featherstone said. "It's more secure than ever, although it doesn't mean that anything is absolutely safe."

But there are jittery passengers, like Beth Kellogg from Wappinger Falls, N.Y., who was stunned that security wasn't tighter when she departed from South Carolina on a flight to LaGuardia. …