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Airline passengers not afraid

Orange threat level doesn't stop people from traveling this holiday season

Nick Foster

S.J. Park kept his ID ready. He knew security would be checking it at the airport in Raleigh-Durham, N.C., before flying to Colorado, and they did — four times.

Like many people at Yampa Valley Regional Airport on Monday, Park did not mind the added security at American airports because of the orange national threat level. The threat is “perhaps greater now than at any point since Sept. 11,” Homeland Security Chief Tom Ridge told reporters Sunday. Park agreed that an extra 30-minute security delay was a fair compromise compared to an eternity if terrorists decided to board his plane.

Air travelers arriving in Hayden on Monday said they were checked more thoroughly than usual before boarding their flights from U.S. airports, and many noticed a heightened police presence. However, many said even if the security was somewhat nerve-racking, it made them feel more safe.

“The security made me feel a little nervous, but also safer,” said Benny Cartlidge of Dallas. “I’ve learned what not to wear to make it easier. They still made me take my shoes off, but no big deal.”

“I might have been scared if I was flying into a major city, but not Steamboat Springs,” said Kim Cartlidge, Benny’s wife.

Kim Cartlidge’s logic sounds reasonable, but the Homeland Security report said that the al-Qaida terrorist network again is seeking to use planes as weapons and exploit weaknesses in U.S. aviation security.

The security at YVRA was less than that of major cities, where several armed guards or policemen stood by entrances, several air travelers said. YVRA Director Jim Parker said the airport is doing all it can in terms of security, including having more security guards on duty.

“Precautionary steps are certainly warranted in cases like this, where planes are possible targets,” Parker said. “And we are taking those steps to prevent that here and in all commercial airports. We’re doing everything we can to deter terrorist attacks.”

Like almost every U.S. airport, YVRA had National Guard soldiers patrolling with loaded M-16s for several months after Sept. 11, 2001. Now the only armed force at the airport comes and goes, via patrols from the Hayden Police Department and the Routt County Sheriff’s Office.

After the announcement of the raised threat level, an FBI advisory was sent to state and local law enforcement agencies across the country urging them to take special notice of suspicious activity. The Hayden Police Department has jurisdiction over YVRA and patrols it on average a dozen times per day, Police Chief Jody Lenahan said.

Lenahan said police would increase patrols and be more thorough.

Parker said the heightened security also means that airport officials will be randomly inspecting vehicles by looking inside the general passenger and cargo areas for anything suspicious. Vehicles that service planes and make their way onto the runway will be checked meticulously, Parker said.

“We’ve been at this level before, so it’s nothing new,” Parker said.

It seemed most people arriving at YVRA shared Parker’s philosophy, saying they were not afraid to fly, despite reading morning newspaper headlines announcing the orange level — “high risk of terrorist attacks” — which was the first change in threat level since May.

“The security in Orlando was as intense as it has ever been, if not more,” said Jeanie Vogel, who is visiting Steamboat with her family on vacation. “There was no difference in our feeling of flying. We felt very comfortable.”

“We’re not hesitant about flying,” said Bill Scanlan of Winter Haven, Fla. “Almost everyone had to take their shoes off and empty their pockets, but it’s no hassle.”

For some, fear took a back seat to determination.

“I was scared a little,” said Sharon Blake of Miami. “I kept my eyes open. If I saw anything suspicious, I sure would have let someone know. But I needed a vacation, and it was booked and planned. I’ve got to live my life.”

It seems fear is not a factor; flights into YVRA are 80 percent to 100 percent booked for the winter, Parker said.


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