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
And keeping them in check right now, he says, "seems like an
Before reopening airports after an unprecedented nationwide
shutdown, the FAA demanded complete evaluations of each level of
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
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
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
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. …