Friday, September 14, 2001 at 11:33 AM
Cleveland Hopkins airport is once again open for business. But officials warn there may be long delays for people waiting for flights. 90.3 WCPN's Karen Schaefer reports.
Karen Schaefer- The airport officially re-opened at 11 o'clock yesterday morning (Sept. 13), although the terminal was open for a few hours on Wednesday. Hundreds of stranded passengers have been waiting at airport hotels for three days to catch flights home. But Airport Director Reuben Shepperd warns that travelers should call the airlines first before coming to Hopkins.
Shepperd says the problem is that aircraft and airline pilots are scattered all over the country following (September 11's) emergency grounding of commercial flights. And before planes can take off from Cleveland, the receiving airport must be operational as well. The FAA has been approving re-openings on a case-by-case basis and many major airports - including those in New York - are still closed. The first plane to arrive at Hopkins yesterday was a Continental jet from Atlanta, but flights in and out remain erratic. Seattle resident Richard Johnson considered himself lucky to be scheduled on a Delta flight due in from Atlanta yesterday afternoon.
By noon, several hundred people were in the terminal, either checking on flights or waiting to see if planes they had booked seats on would actually arrive. Geraldine Sharp was trying to get home to Georgia. Surrounded by luggage, she sat with her granddaughter on her lap, trying to keep her amused. She said the ticket agent told her she might have to wait until eight o'clock that night.
Airport officials say priority will be given to passengers from flights that were diverted to Cleveland. International flights will also take precedence over domestic travel. In addition to those delays, officials say passengers will also experience slowdowns due to heightened security measures now required by the FAA. Yesterday uniformed police officers were stationed throughout the terminal and at each check-in point. On this concourse, at least a dozen security guards waited to shepherd passengers through a barrage of metal detectors.
Other new security precautions include the elimination of curbside baggage check-in - and along with it, at least 70 jobs.
Airport employees say most people who've been waiting for air service to resume have been cooperative and understanding about the delays. But today, some tempers began to fray.
But most passengers seemed willing to wait, glad they might finally be going home.
But reminders of Tuesday's terrorist attacks were never far from people's minds. After the airport re-opened, Mayor Mike White finally revealed the reason behind his decision to evacuate the airport on Tuesday. For the first time, he admitted that the high-jacked Delta flight that crashed outside of Pittsburgh was indeed the plane that appeared over Cleveland's airspace.
Mayor White says the heightened security measures now in force will remain in effect for the foreseeable future. In the meantime - barring further orders from the FAA - flights in and out of Cleveland should slowly increase over the next few days. At Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, Karen Schaefer, 90.3 WCPN News.