Latest Crash Reignites Flying Fears
NEW YORK – The first major U.S. plane crash after Sept. 11 has still-shaky travelers once again rethinking flying and the air industry wondering whether the skies will ever be friendly again.
"I’m very anxious about this," Lynette Clarke of Toronto said at Columbia Metropolitan Airport in South Carolina. "But I don’t have any other choice. It’s 27 hours on a bus or close to that on a train."
From Albuquerque Sunport in New Mexico to O’Hare Airport in Chicago, people hearing about the American Airlines plane that crashed into a Queens, N.Y., neighborhood after taking off from John F. Kennedy Airport had an awful feeling of déjà vu. There were 255 people on board, and six people have been reported missing on the ground.
"It was like being hit hard in the stomach," said Robert Travers of Syracuse, N.Y., describing how he absorbed news of the crash while waiting to pick up his son at the local airport.
And coming just a week before what is traditionally the busiest travelling holiday of the year, Thanksgiving, the latest airplane disaster could spell financial ruin for the airline industry. Several companies are already on the brink of bankruptcy after four hijacked planes played a role in the worst terrorist attacks in history almost exactly two months ago.
"This could not have occurred at a more critical time in the history of the aviation industry," Marianne McInerney, executive director of the National Business Travel Association, said. "You hate to say this, but we're all hopeful this is a mechanical occurrence."
Flights to and from New York City were halted for a good chunk of the day, stranding travelers throughout the country.
Jim McNamara, a pharmaceutical salesman from Chicago, was at O'Hare Airport and was headed to Dallas for a business meeting when his flight was canceled because of the crash.
"I don't know if scared is the word. I'm more concerned, but I feel (the security personnel) are doing their job," he said.
Dorothy Hornbuckle of West Seneca, N.Y., heard about the crash as she sat in a plane waiting to take off from Buffalo Niagara International Airport. The flight was grounded and she booked another later.
"Nervous? Yes, before this even happened I was apprehensive," Hornbuckle said. "Not just about flying on a plane but everything in general."
Marie Brown, of Ocean Port, N.J., was returning from a vacation to Hawaii with her husband when their Newark-bound flight was diverted to Detroit.
"I'm too scared to fly," Brown said. "We're trying to get a car to drive home. This is just unreal."
But the effects reached even beyond the cancelled flights.
At Reagan National Airport outside Washington, D.C., Vietnam veteran Terrence Davis of Morgantown, Ky., learned of the crash while awaiting a flight home after attending Veterans Day events.
"I thought about going up to the counter and asking them to give me a limousine back," he said. "When you're scared to fly in the first place, and then all this happens. ... It's scary just thinking about getting on a plane after today."
And sometimes the crash even reached beyond the airport.
At Miami International Airport, taxi driver Erines Eleazar, 42, said his business had just been returning to normal after plummeting because of the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
"People were getting more confidence. They wanted to get back in the air," he said. "Now they had this crash -- it's just going to kill the business again."
Since Sept. 11, the airline industry has lost billions of dollars and laid off more than 200,000 workers, while passenger travel has dropped by more than 30 percent.
McInerney said passengers had been steadily returning to the skies, however. Monday's crash might derail the comeback.
"As quickly as possible, the National Transportation Safety Board has to advise us what the cause of this accident is," she said. "We cannot afford to take our time. The American public is already demanding answers."
Michelle Janis, a spokeswoman for the Washington-based American Bus Association, predicted more travelers would consider bus trips as an alternative to flying. Ridership for bus trips over 1,000 miles already has increased by 10 percent since Sept. 11, the association said.
In Honolulu, Hawaiian Airlines canceled a media tour of its new Boeing 767 jet scheduled for Monday, saying it wasn’t appropriate after the crash.
At Columbia Metropolitan, airport spokeswoman Laura B. McMickens said passengers shouldn't worry.
"Traveling now is safer than it ever has been," she said. "And there's an armed military presence that makes people feel more comfortable about traveling."
She and McInerney probably would have been pleased to hear the attitude of passengers determined to keep flying.
At Chicago’s O’Hare, Stu Stott was nearly nonchalant as he readied for a flight back to school in Austin, Texas.
"Everybody is going to die sometime," he said.
"There's more car accidents than there are plane crashes," said Christianna Toler, who was trying to get back to New York after a theater audition in Chicago.
"You can't stop your life," said Anabela Correia, 24, of New Bedford, Mass., who was in Miami en route back home from a Caribbean cruise.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.