Kenai Municipal Airport open

Flights resume in Alaska skies

Posted: Friday, September 14, 2001

Peninsula plane service has resumed, but don't expect normalcy for at least a week.

Thursday evening, Era Aviation ran its first flights between Kenai and Anchorage since Tuesday's hijackings and related destruction on the East Coast led to a shut-down of the nation's air traffic system.

Airlines serving Alaska plan to ramp up operations today, but the atmosphere remains full of uncertainty due to security concerns, new regulations, traveler backlogs and planes that are far from their intended locations.

"I must tell you, things could change in a heartbeat," Judy Erikson, Era's station manager in Kenai, said of the tentative schedules.

The number one question people are asking her staff is when they can get back in the air.

She recommended that anyone flying in the near future should arrive at the airport at least two hours before flight time and expect tight, new security procedures.

The short-term parking lot at the Kenai Municipal Airport was nearly deserted Thursday afternoon. Paper signs warned of strict enforcement of parking regulations. Businesses inside complained that inaccurate reports that the terminal was closed kept potential customers away.

At Alaska's Best Travel, the travel agency in the terminal, walk-ins were few but the phones were ringing off the hook. Agents reported swarms of calls and e-mail messages from clients, some of whom were stranded on the other side of the world and desperate to get home.

Owner Dottie Fischer said the past few days have been horrid for the agency and its clientele.

Airlines began to fly to and from and within Alaska Thursday, but the large carriers are not releasing seats to the public for new bookings for several days.

Most airlines would not let the agents book anything earlier than Monday, she said.

"I think it is really going to take us a week before things are back to near normal," she said. "(People) are frustrated. They want to be home. They don't want to hear what we have to say."

Agents' efforts to help people are stymied by the lack of information, which seems to change from hour to hour. Their business has taken a deep hit in the pocketbook from issuing so many refunds. When they refund tickets, they lose the commissions they had already earned.

"We have done the work, but now we can't get paid for it. People are afraid to fly. We are basically working for less than free," she said. "The economic repercussions are going to be severe."

Fischer already is hearing about ripple effects in the local economy from the air traffic delays.

People are canceling full package tours of the area, including hotel, lodge, fishing guide and other bookings. This affects many other people, from taxicabs to restaurants, she noted.

September is a big season for travel trade shows important to Alaska tourism, and the groundings are messing them up.

For example, a Hawaiian Vacations show scheduled for today was postponed indefinitely, she said.

"We hope that was the only one," she said.

Meanwhile private planes in Alaska got clearance to start flying early Thursday morning, allowing Bush pilots to pick up hunters and take care of other pressing rural business.

Alaska Airlines resumed limited service out of the Anchorage airport at 11 a.m., according to its Web site. The first flight went to Kotzebue. The flights offered served links with Alaska towns and Seattle-Tacoma.

The airline planned to fly in and out of Fairbanks, Juneau, Sitka, Ketchikan, Barrow and Prudhoe Bay.

Fischer reported that other carriers planning to restart limited Alaska service by the end of Thursday were Northwest, TWA, Delta, Continental and United. The overseas carriers China Air and Korean Air Lines planned to have flights before the end of today, according to the travel agency's online resources.

"There is a rumor for every person out there," she said.

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