Grounded: American air traffic halts

by Maggie Hessel-Mial

Ally Carnes, originally from Cape Cod, Mass., understands the weight of recent events more so than many other travelers. Carnes was originally scheduled to be on the flight – from Boston to Los Angeles – believed to be the one that crashed into the World Trade Center in New York.

“I wanted to get out earlier and be in L.A. earlier so I switched to a flight an hour earlier,” she said. “My entire family thought I was dead.”

In an unprecedented event, all air travel in North America has been halted in an event dubbed “Operation Ground Stop.” Travelers at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport were stranded as all flights coming and going were grounded.

Between six and 10 planes were diverted to Minneapolis-St.Paul International Airport after the Federal Aviation Administration issued the grounding.

Atsuko Harigai was flying from New York to Seattle on her way back to Japan when her plane was diverted to Minneapolis. When she got into the Twin Cities, not only did she not know what was going on, she also didn’t know where in the United States she was.

She is now stuck in the Twin Cities, an area foreign to her, until Sunday.

Pay phones at the airport had lines close to 30 minutes long, Carnes said. Ticket lines were also extremely long as airline personnel attempted to accommodate people stuck in the Twin Cities.

“All flights have been canceled until further notice,” said Tim Callister, Minneapolis-St.Paul International Airport Director. “There will probably be no flights until tomorrow.”

Many passengers were scrambling to find hotel room for the night. Louis Thuet and his wife were flying from St. Louis, Mo., to Spokane, Wash., to attend an army reunion when they heard they would not be able to leave.

“We’ve been trying to get a hotel room, but all the lines are busy,” Thuet said. “We were on our flight when they told us we had to get out of the sky. I am filled with horror and disbelief.”

Carnes described the scene at the airport’s baggage claim as, “utter chaos.”

“Every bag that was checked by passengers had to be claimed,” Carnes said. “Everyone was running around trying to get their bags.”

Callister said the airport staff are doing all they could to help those stranded, but due to the uncertainty of the situation, it is unclear when the situation will be cleared up.

“As much as air travel is interconnected in the world, this will take a long time to get back up and running,” Callister said.

He also added that since no one else is coming into the airport, staff believe those already there can be taken care of through hotel rooms and rental cars.

Many stranded at the airport did not have full details about what happened in New York and Washington, D.C., and were not concerned with the flight cancellations.

“We don’t really know what’s going on,” said Johanna Brousserd, a passenger en route to California. “We were just told our flight was cancelled.”

Other travelers like David Abel from Michigan began to understand the gravity of the situation as he waited for his luggage.

“This is hard to grasp,” Abel said. “I feel some anxieties. Why does this happen?”

Airport officials can only speculate on what the next step will be in the wake of this national disaster.

“There have been increased security preparations and additional police on site,” said James Welna, Director of Public Safety with the Metro Airports Commission.

While these attempts might help some travelers feel more comfortable in their future flights, others have lost their sense of security.

“This is the worst thing that could happen,” Carnes said. “I’m terrified to fly.”


Maggie Hessel-Mial welcomes comments at [email protected]