Business Travelers Will Face More Scrutiny Delays
GRAND RAPIDS — Business travelers long accustomed to hurrying from flight to flight will have to get used to a significantly slower pace as the nation’s air system resumes normal operations in the wake of the terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C.
Unprecedented security measures put into effect nationwide last week following the attacks will slow passengers as they move through airports and have forced the suspension of conveniences such as curbside and electronic check-in that business travelers rely on and enjoy.
“Business travel is not real glamorous to begin with and this is one more cog in the wheel that will cause it to be less glamorous,” said Brett Elzinga, vice president and general manager of Navigant International’s Grand Rapids office, which handles corporate travel arrangements for several area firms.
Perhaps the biggest change business travelers will have to make is building greater flexibility into their schedules so they can arrive at the airport well before their flight. The Federal Aviation Administration, airports and airlines say that all travelers should now plan to arrive at the airport at least two hours before a domestic flight is scheduled to take off — three hours for an international flight — in order to give them adequate time to check in and pass through security checkpoints.
“We’re used to quickly being able to get into the airport and quickly make our flight. We can’t take that for granted anymore,” Elzinga said, referring to the comparatively easy access travelers enjoy at Gerald R. Ford International Airport in Grand Rapids.
A survey of 200 corporate travel managers taken the day following the Sept. 11 attacks found that business travelers “are prepared to accept less convenience in exchange for higher levels of security in the air,” said Marianne McInerney, executive director of the Alexandria, Va.-based National Business Travelers Association.
The association stakes claim to a membership that manages 70 percent of business travel expenses in the U.S. each year. Its survey found that 73 percent of corporate travel managers support placing armed air marshals on flights and eliminating curbside check-in at airports.
At Gerald R. Ford International Airport — where an estimated 40 percent of the 2 million passengers who use the airport annually are business travelers — curbside and electronic check-in are suspended indefinitely. The airport has also closed its 400-space short-term parking lot in accordance with an FAA order to prohibit parking within 300 feet of a terminal, and has limited curbside parking to immediate drop-off and pick-up.
Only ticketed passengers are allowed onto the airport’s concourse beyond security checkpoints and all passengers and their luggage are subject to additional screening.
Similar measures are in place at airports nationwide.
Those and other measures will slow passengers as they move through the airport, requiring travelers to have patience. The question is how long will it take before the additional security measures are rescinded — if ever.
“We may find that the FAA says there is a new baseline for airport security,” said Bruce Schedlbauer, marketing and communications manager at Gerald R. Ford International Airport. “That’s the kind of question the entire industry is asking — how long will we have these measures in place? Some of them may remain for a long, long time.”
Business travelers should plan accordingly and build plenty of time into their daily schedules to get through the airports they’re using, Elzinga said.
His advice for coping with the change: “Get used to it. It’s here.”
Business travelers can take a few other steps to make the best of things and avoid problems, Elzinga said. If they use e-tickets, they should carry their itinerary or receipt with them.
When packing, remember to keep items such as small pocketknives or letter openers out of your bags or briefcase. “It’s ‘Don’t even bring those things.’ Period,” Elzinga said.
Federal authorities believe the hijackers in the terrorist attacks were able to take control of the planes using knives and box cutters.
AAA Michigan recommends that all travelers carry two pieces of photo identification. Passengers can minimize long lines at airports by calling the airline or their travel agent to confirm or rebook a flight.
Elzinga expects that some companies will curtail employee air travel in the short-term until their confidence in the system has been restored, although a few clients called two days after the tragedy indicating they were ready to go when things got back to normal.
Thirty-five percent of the respondents in the National Business Travelers Association survey said they recommended that travelers limit travel in light of the recent events, while 36 percent indicated they urged travelers to evaluate business travel on a case-by-case basis based on their own needs.