Sept. 13, 2001 – An American Airlines jet plane grounded at Cyril E. King Airport since Tuesday after terrorist attacks on the mainland is scheduled to depart at 5 p.m. Thursday for New York's Kennedy International Airport.
Beverly Nicholson, executive director of the St. Thomas-St. John Hotel and Tourism Association, said those with confirmed reservations will get first priority to board the non-stop flight back to New York. The 172-seat plane had departed Kennedy Airport and was in the air en route to St. Thomas when the attacks occurred Tuesday morning.
The federal government opened airports around the country at 11 a.m., with the proviso that they comply with tough new security provisions before resume flights in or out. The Cyril E. King Airport on St. Thomas the Henry E. Rohlsen Airport on St. Croix reopened to commercial traffic at 2 p.m.
Seaborne Airlines also commenced operations Thursday, with its first flight leaving St. Thomas for St. Croix at 2:30 p.m. Omer ErSelcuk, marketing manager, said flights are booked solid with passengers who have been waiting since Tuesday, as well as passengers in San Juan anxious to reach St. Thomas. Inter-island flights on Friday will begin at 6:30 a.m., he said.
Ben Grimes, St. Thomas FAA traffic controller, said only commercial flights are allowed to operate Thursday, including cargo carriers. He said he hopes the airport will be open to private, or special interest, air traffic starting Friday.
Camille Hatley, St. Croix FAA traffic controller, said around 3 p.m. Thursday that the Rohlsen Airport is open for commercial traffic, but "we haven't had a flight yet." She said she expected American Eagle flights in from San Juan later Thursday afternoon.
As part of beefed-up security nationwide, new parking restrictions are in effect at both airports. The new regulations do not allow passengers to park within 300 feet of an airport terminal. As a result, on St. Thomas, cars may only drop off and pick up passengers at the terminal. On St. Croix, a Port Authority spokesman said cars must pick up and drop off passengers in a designated area about 75 feet from the terminal, and that a special parking area is located about 300 feet from the terminal.
Nicholson said Delta Air Lines and American Eagle will probably resume St. Thomas flights on Friday. There was no immediate information about United Airlines, US Airways and Continental.
Lowell Dyer, station manager for American Airlines on St. Croix, said he expects the airline, the major mainland carrier providing service to the territory, to resume flying in and out of the Henry E. Rohlsen Airport on Friday, too.
Cape Air, which serves St. Thomas, St. Croix and San Juan, had a flight scheduled to leave from St. Thomas for San Juan at 3:20 p.m. Thursday. Another was scheduled to leave St. Thomas for St. Croix at 3:30 p.m., station manager Jimmy Boulai said.
David Mapp, Port Authority assistant director, said the Port Authority had completed implementing security measures but declined to be specific. He also said that passenger security is up to the airlines.
Boulai said Cape Air passengers will face a barrage of security-oriented questions. Additionally, all baggage will go through scanners. "Everybody goes through the X-ray machine," he said. Also, he said, people who buy same-day tickets will face closer scrutiny than those with advance-purchase tickets. And anyone who raises the suspicions of Cape Air agents will face questioning by U.S. Customs and Immigration agents.
V.I. personnel referred questions about American Airlines security to Minnette Velez, the carrier's San Juan-based spokeswoman. Velez said she had no information. Later Thursday, American Airlines confirmed that the plane grounded at CEK would depart for New York at 5 p.m. Thursday.
Nicholson said about 1,200 visitors have been stranded at St. Thomas and St. John hotels because of the shut-down of airports.
While hoteliers hope that incoming visitors will fill the vacancies that will occur as those 1,200 visitors depart, cancellations are beginning to trickle in. "But there hasn't been an onslaught," Richard Doumeng, hotel association president, said. He said that his own property, Bolongo Bay Beach Club and Villas, and some other hotels are giving those holding reservations for coming dates about two weeks to cancel them without penalty.
Kathy Demar, who manages vacation villas on St. John, said she has received one cancellation, for a January date. The prospective guest told her that his wife already had a fear of flying and the attacks have made it impossible for her to get on an airplane.


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