JFK reopens with reduced flight activity

By Betsy Scheinbart

John F. Kennedy International Airport was operating this week with about 60 percent of its normal arrivals and departures after the nation’s airports were shut down when terrorists attacked the World Trade Center Sept. 11.

Queens’ JFK reported light activity, with more than half the average take-offs and landings, said Frank Pita, a spokesman for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

Airlines have reduced their schedules and airport security has increased in the wake of last week’s attack, Bledsoe said.

On Sept. 11, terrorists hijacked four domestic airline carriers, crashing two planes into the Twin Towers, one into the Pentagon, outside Washington, D.C. and one outside Pittsburgh, Pa.

Every airport in the United States closed shortly after the attack on the World Trade Center and they remained closed until last Thursday.

JFK opened to travelers at 11 a.m. last Thursday, but it was closed again by 5 p.m. after a total of 10 people were arrested at the two airports. It reopened again Friday.

Ten people were detained last Thursday at Queens airports and one man was officially detained at JFK for allegedly posing as an airline pilot, The New York Times reported.

A law enforcement official told The Times that the unidentified man was believed to be an associate of the brother of Osama bin Laden, the Islamic fundamentalist suspected of ordering the attack on the Twin Towers.

For the few hours JFK was open last Thursday, security was tight at Terminal 4, the international arrivals and departures terminal, where only Port Authority personnel were permitted in the building. Ticketed passengers waited outside for word of their flights.

More than 100 travelers hoping to get to Israel lined up outside the terminal and gave their names to a representative of El AL, the national airline of Israel.

Davidhaim Perez, an Israeli who came to New York on business two weeks ago, said he doubted he would be able to get a flight to Tel Aviv last Thursday.

He had planned to fly out earlier but was grounded after the terrorist attacks.

“I have no clothes, no hotel, no money,” he said. “I am not nervous to fly, I am nervous to stay here.”

Perez said he was haunted by what he had seen Sept. 11 from Canal Street near the site of the terrorist attack at the Twin Towers in Lower Manhattan.

“All night, I closed my eyes and I saw people jumping,” Perez said, referring to the victims who jumped to their deaths from the burning towers. “It was very difficult to sleep.”

Although people in Israel face frequent terrorism attacks, it is impossible to understand or get used to these assaults, he said.

Most travelers said they were confident about flying, even after four planes were hijacked Tuesday.

“Because I am traveling with El Al, it is always safe,” Sagi Morshtein said of his upcoming flight with the Israeli airline, which is famous for its tight security. “It is the best you can get. I feel safe.”

International tour guide Jeanne Wisner was headed to China to lead a group of tourists.

“Because my job is flying — all the time — I have learned to deal with it,” Wisner said.

Although she was not nervous about flying, she said she was glad security was improving at the airport.

Petula Johnny was preparing to fly to Trinidad, feeling fairly confident about the safety of her flight.

“You are cautious, but not too scared to go,” she said about her trip.

Many passengers were stranded in New York after their flights last Tuesday and last Wednesday were canceled. Chain Singh had hoped to return to his native New Delhi, India Tuesday, but was grounded in New York.

He sought refuge in a local Sikh Temple during his extended stay and desperately tried to contact his family to ease their fears. He said getting a telephone line through to India was very difficult.

Ryan and Sarah De Zwait, a couple originally from New Zealand, had been vacationing in New York and were planning to return to their home in London when the terrorist attack occurred.

“Our first five days were terrific,” Sarah De Zwait said and pointed to her husband’s “I love New York” T-shirt. She was wearing a “Born to be wild, New York” T-shirt.

The couple said they bought the shirts to sleep in but then ran out of clean clothing. They were eyewitnesses to the attack in Manhattan.

“When it first happened, it was not real to us,” Ryan De Zwait said. They said at first it seemed exciting and totally surreal like a movie. Later the reality of the event began to sink in.

The De Zwaits found themselves stuck in New York as rates for the hotel they were staying in rose from $80 to $150 a night.

Around the corner from their original hotel, they were relieved to find another hotel open only to stranded travelers. And last Wednesday night, they met a friendly couple who took them in.

“We found New Yorker very nice,” Ryan De Zwait said. “People have just been so helpful.”

“We are thankful they helped us out when we were stranded,” Sarah De Zwait added.

Reach reporter Betsy Scheinbart by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300 Ext. 138.

More from Around New York