Kenai airport tightens security

Posted: Sunday, September 23, 2001

Baggage checks, security screenings, parking restrictions and an increased security presence are some of the changes that have been implemented at airports nationwide in the wake of the Sept. 11 airline hijackings and terrorist attacks on the United States. For airline passengers that can mean longer waits at the airport, tougher baggage restrictions and an inability to bring anything sharp, including knives, box cutters, scissors, nail files, tweezers and even the trusty Leatherman onto the plane.

The primary changes implemented by the Kenai Municipal Airport are an increased security presence and restrictions on parking in front of the airport, said Airport Manager Becky Cronkhite. The parking area in front of the terminal is now restricted to loading and unloading only; anyone wishing to stop and get out of their car must park in the short-term parking lot. These changes are the first ones to be implemented at the airport, Cronkhite said, but not the last.

"This is just the start, not the final ruling on airline security," she said. "I expect to see increased regulations as they apply to Kenai and airports nationwide. Looking at the problem, I believe we will see increased security over the next months and even years as they determine the most appropriate way to deal with the threat."

Era Aviation has also implemented several security changes, said Judy Erikson, Era's station manager in Kenai. In addition to the usual security questions at the check-in counter, passengers are now asked if they are carrying anything sharp on either themselves or their carry-on luggage. If they are, passengers are required to stow those items in their checked baggage.

Passenger identification is being checked twice now, once at the check-in counter and again at the gate door before boarding the plane. Era has also instituted random metal detection wand sweeps and bag searches. Era is asking passengers to arrive at the airport early and is trying to get flights boarded a little earlier as well.

When airports first reopened after the attacks, Era, like other carriers, was not checking any luggage through to other carriers. Since then, Era has begun checking bags through to some other carriers. Unaccompanied minors are not allowed on Era flights as yet, but Erikson said she's sure that will change as well.

"Yes, we have stepped up our security," Erikson said. "Each day it's something new. We're doing our best, and we're thankful to the public for sticking with us now."

Increased security has become the norm in all airports around the country. In Anchorage, as in other airports, parking is prohibited 300 feet in front of terminals, Cronkhite said.

Specific security measures and restrictions vary from airline to airline so passengers should check with their carrier before going to the airport. According to Cronkhite, most airlines are asking passengers to check in at least two hours before their flight, and some are not transferring bags.

"Additionally, there is much higher scrutiny of hand-carried luggage, and there has been talk that some carriers are limiting or excluding hand-carried bags," Cronkhite said.

Alaska Airlines is back up to 100 percent of flights inside the state and is at 75 percent of its scheduled flights systemwide, said Jack Walsh, a spokesperson for Alaska Airlines

Alaska, like other airlines, is considering cutbacks in response to peoples' fear of flying and new security regulations. It will return to 80 to 85 percent of scheduled flights, then evaluate whether to return to full speed, Walsh said.

Era Aviation is running 100 percent of its flights, Erikson said.

As inconvenient as these new measures may be, Cronkhite said, she hasn't spoken to anyone in the airline industry who thinks the new regulations are overzealous. And both Cronkhite and Erikson commented on how patient, understanding and even thankful passengers have been about the new security measures, both at the Kenai Municipal Airport and, from what they've heard, at airports nationwide.

"We at the airport have been very pleased that people are displaying such good humor and have been so cooperative," Cronkhite said. "People are really taking it in stride, which makes everyone's job easier. It's like a cooperative effort, the passengers are working with the airlines and airports. Everyone's interest is in security and safety -- it's like we're all on the same team."

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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