New federal rules prompt two airlines to bypass Anchorage

Posted: Sunday, September 30, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Federal security rules in the wake of the Sept. 11 terror attacks are causing delays for foreign airlines at Anchorage's international airport, so lengthy that two carriers have stopped landing at the airport.

The U.S. Customs Service is requiring that baggage on foreign airlines be inspected when they first land in the United States, even if the passengers are destined for other airports or countries.

In Anchorage, carriers such as Cathay Pacific Airways and China Airlines usually stop at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport to refuel and change crews.

Prior to Sept. 11, most baggage on the flights was not inspected because most passengers were destined for another city or country aboard the same jet.

Now, customs agents are inspecting baggage stowed in the belly of foreign planes after they land in Anchorage. The security measure has added a few hours to what normally would be a one-hour layover for many of these carriers.

Cathay and China Airlines have stopped landing in Anchorage because of the delays. Instead, Cathay is refueling in Vancouver, British Columbia, on its way between Hong Kong and Toronto. China Air is flying directly between Taiwan and New York, the airport said.

Cathay usually saves time by stopping in Anchorage. But the new rules are an inconvenience for passengers and the airline found it better to divert to Vancouver, said Audene Barlow, Cathay's airport services manager in Anchorage.

Besides Cathay and China, other foreign carriers affected by the rule but still flying to Anchorage are Korean Air and Asiana, said Linda Close, airport marketing manager.

The change puts passengers through a maze of checks. They must exit the plane with their carry-on bags and claim their other baggage inside. Then they undergo a full inspection by the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

Passengers also must clear customs. Bags are reloaded on the plane, and passengers pass through X-ray machines and metal detectors before boarding the aircraft, Close said.

Despite the delays, Asiana does not plan to divert its flights, said HyoJoong Kim, regional manager in Anchorage. ''Our passengers are quite understanding.''

Losing Cathay's 60 monthly flights will cost the Anchorage airport $71,000 a month in landing and fuels fees. Jet fuel sales are down. Although no layoffs have been reported to the airport, ground service crews stand to lose an estimated $105,000 a month. And airport concessionaires, like the duty free shop, thousands more, said Mort Plumb, airport director, in a letter to the Customs Service.

The airport has asked the Customs Service to stop checking baggage during Anchorage stopovers, leaving just INS inspections.

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