Jet lag

Passengers say security delays

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— The loudspeaker that sounded through the empty walkways of Yampa Valley Regional Airport spoke volumes on Saturday afternoon.

Except for a few airport workers, no one else was there to listen.

Sue Weidner listened only halfheartedly to the announcement reminding passengers of a few safety precautions.

She was manning the counter at The Hangar, a novelty store just beyond one of the airport's entrances.

Her friend, Cathy Gero, owns the store with her husband, Ben, and could not work on Saturday, so Weidner agreed to fill in for the day.

Weidner said business had been less than brisk that day at the airport, with only a few customers quickly passing through to buy water and snacks.

"People seem a little more reluctant to spend money," she said.

Weidner works regularly at The Hangar during the winter, when people crowd the small store and gladly purchase more of its specialized gifts.

"I'm optimistic that people will pack this place again," she added.

Comments about flying in the wake of Sept. 11 quietly filter around the store once in a while, she said, but passengers mostly keep their thoughts to themselves.

"It really doesn't seem all that different, but it's still that knowing that it happened that tends to subdue everyone around here a bit," Weidner said.

Jeanna Thompson, supervisor for Air Wisconsin United Express, said the airport was usually quiet except in between flights.

Air Wisconsin employees, however, do begin their workday an hour earlier. In order to accommodate people who follow advice that passengers arrive at least two hours early to the airport, she and her co-workers must now be available to serve passengers by 5:15 a.m., she said.

Thompson said she does not mind the extra hour but instead has trouble with passengers who, in light of recent events, still show up at the last minute and expect to board the plane.

"The days of checking in your baggage 20 minutes before the flight is over," Thompson said. "We have to be firm about that rule. There are no exceptions."

A few passengers have been turned away because they failed to report earlier than 20 minutes, she said. She suggests passengers using Yampa Valley Regional Airport give themselves an hour and a half to check their bags.

"People can't assume that just because we're a small airport close to a small town that the rules don't apply to us," Thompson said.

Larry Mashaw of Steamboat Springs decided to purchase his United tickets a day early on Saturday so he wouldn't have to stand in line on Sunday.

Mashaw's wait wasn't long. He was the only customer in line.

He said he thought a flight out of Hayden was worth the extra money, if that meant he could take some of the hassle out of checking in at Denver International Airport.

Sunday will be first time he has been to DIA since before the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, he said.

He said he wonders if more local people might fly out of Hayden to avoid some of the hassle of a larger airport.

"I think that people might, as they realize the inconvenience of trying to start at Denver, opt to fly out of Hayden," Mashaw said. "It wouldn't be a bad thing at all."

By 4:20 p.m., the sounds of a dozen or so passengers happy to arrive in Hayden finally broke the silence that had settled since the last round of passengers arrived shortly after 1 p.m.

Susan Welch and her husband, James, were welcomed by her parents after they spent more than a week on a cruise ship just off the coast of Boston.

The couple flew in and out of DIA and Boston's Logan International Airport.

They and their carry-on luggage were searched multiple times at both airports, they said.

At Logan Airport, Susan Welch said everyday items such as hairspray and tweezers had to be removed from her carry-on luggage and placed in bags she was checking in.

At DIA, the couple stood in line for one and a half hours to have their carry-on luggage checked through security, she said.

"The neat thing was that nobody complained," she said. "I think we all realized that this was important for our own safety."

Several people at Logan and DIA looked anxious but everyone went about their business knowing that safety was of utmost importance to airport personnel, she said.

"I couldn't be happier with it," she said. "For me, everything we had to go through gave me some comfort knowing that security had really been upped."

James Welch agreed that their time on the ground and in the air was free of anxiety.

"It was surprisingly uneventful," he said.

Security at Logan was extremely tight, he said, as indicated by armed SWAT teams that patrolled the airport.

"But I loved it and their 'in your face' attitudes," Welch said. "I appreciate it because the time has come that we take further steps to bolster airport security and offer more protection to passengers."

He said the martial atmosphere offered passengers reassurance, as if airport security wanted to show them that they were determined to never again allow what happened aboard the two flights that took off from Logan on the morning of Sept. 11.

"And it hopefully never will," he said.

To reach Danie Harrelson call 871-4208

or e-mail dharrelson@steamboatpilot.com

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