The day after the horrific attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, most Americans were left wondering when things will get back to normal – or if they ever will.
The answer Wednesday was this: Nobody knows.
At about 2: 45 p.m. Wednesday, the Federal Aviation Administration partially lifted a Tuesday order suspending all U.S. commercial flights.
Most airports had been expected to reopen sometime Wednesday, with travelers warned of delays because many planes were routed to the wrong airports and stringent new check-in procedures are in place. The only exceptions were to have been airports in New York and Washington, D.C., FAA spokesman Les Dorr said.
But by Wednesday afternoon, Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta kept all regular flights grounded, with the only exception being diverted flights, which would be allowed to fly to the original destinations.
But even those flights would forbid curbside luggage check-in, restrict boarding areas to original passengers only and keep a close eye on all vehicles. Airlines would also be allowed to move empty aircraft.
The complete ban, the first of its kind in American history, had forced more than 120 flights to Canada and the displacement of thousands of passengers.
The decision to reopen was to have been up to individual airports. At least one, Hartsfield Atlanta International Airport in Georgia, volunteered to remain closed Wednesday.
Delta Airlines said all of its flights would be canceled until 6 p.m. EDT, including commuter flights.
On the FAA Web site, Mineta issued a statement warning Americans will never be able to travel with the same ease again.
"Travelers will see increased security measures at our airports, train stations and other key sites," he said. "Here will be higher levels of surveillance, more stringent searches. Airport curbside luggage check-in will no longer be allowed. There will be more security officers, random identification checks."
The chairman of the House aviation subcommittee, Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., welcomed the changes.
"It's just incredible that you have these four apparent breaches of security," Mica said. "We've seen from today that a determined terrorist isn't going to be stopped by a metal detector and a couple of quick questions about who packed their luggage."
But Mineta promised America will still be a land of free travel:
"Each American must know that we will restore our national transportation system to a safe and efficient status as quickly as possible. … In a democracy there is always a balance between freedom and security. Our transportation systems, reflecting the values of our society, have always operated in an open and accessible manner. And, they will again."
'Not Business As Usual'
America’s financial centers were in utter disarray, with the New York Stock Exchange and U.S. bond markets closed down through Wednesday and no one sure when they would begin trading again. There was also no reliable report of how many members of New York's vast financial community had been lost in the attacks.
The New York Board of Trade, which was significantly damaged in the attack, was closed, and its Long Island backup facility will not open until Sept. 17. Some of the world’s major financial firms were in the building, including Morgan Stanley.
Securities exchanges and government regulators were expected to decide when to reopen the markets later Wednesday.
In New York City, both landline and cellular phone service was patchy at best, as phone companies struggled to deal with an influx of worried calls into the area even as the telecommunications hub at and near the World Trade Center was critically damaged.
Local and wireless phone systems have routed calls around the disaster areas at both the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. But Verizon, the local carrier on the Eastern Seaboard, says getting all service restored could be a "very long process." It's currently off-line, with damage to its New York building and its equipment.
New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said he was trying to bring the city back to normal as quickly as possible. He said he hoped to reopen schools on Thursday.
In Washington, D.C., all federal agencies were open, but personnel were permitted to take unscheduled leave. Bridges into the city were open, but travelers were told to expect delays.
In spots that weren’t hit Tuesday, both government and commercial offices shut down abruptly. Atlanta’s Coca Cola headquarters closed up shop, as did Walt Disney theme parks, San Francisco’s pyramidal TransAmerica Tower and Minnesota’s Mall of America. All of the 3,700 or so Starbucks in the country shut down.
The devastation even affected America's national pastime. Major League Baseball canceled all of its games Tuesday, and on Wednesday announced no games would be played on either Wednesday or Thursday. It was the first time the organization had postponed a full schedule of regular-season games since D-Day in 1944.
The National Football League was still deciding whether to cancel its games scheduled for Sunday. NFL had been criticized when it held games after President Kennedy's assassination in 1963.
Government offices around the country were closed down after the attacks Tuesday, but many made a determined effort that Wednesday would be business as usual. In Trenton, N.J., Gov. Donald DeFrancesco insisted that state workers report to work.
In California, Gov. Gray Davis had shifted his operations from Los Angeles to a new site outside Sacramento, but all government offices besides federal offices were to reopen Wednesday. Madonna cancelled her concert and the Latin Grammys were postponed.
In Chicago, the nation’s tallest building, the Sears Tower, which had been evacuated after the attacks, reopened Wednesday, as did most government buildings. But parking was forbidden on major roads near the Loop and near city, state and federal buildings. The City That Works’ four exchanges agreed jointly to remain closed a second day.
In Florida, Gov. Jeb Bush vowed to get the state government back to work.
"The best way to defeat terrorism is to get back to work serving our people and our state," he said. "Barring any developments to the contrary, the state of Florida will be open for business (Wednesday)."
The Disney theme parks, Universal Studios, SeaWorld Orlando and Busch Gardens in Tampa all planned to open Wednesday.
But all attempts to belie the horror gripping America had to face the simple, stark truths in President Bush’s morning address to the nation, in which he said America had to be on guard against attack in a "monumental struggle of good versus evil."
"It is not business as usual," he said.