Streets are quiet, shops are empty, and restaurants won't take bookings

The Nation
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The Independent US
The resumption of American commercial flights after a 48-hour stoppage unprecedented in the history of aviation provided a rare outbreak of good news.

The resumption of American commercial flights after a 48-hour stoppage unprecedented in the history of aviation provided a rare outbreak of good news.

But the bad news was that it will be days if not weeks before the system is back to anything resembling normal, and even then air travel will almost certainly never be the same again, amid the stringent new security measures to be put in place.

Starting at 11am, East Coast time, planes left stranded in the mayhem of Tuesday morning's hijackings and suicide attacks began to ferry passengers back to where they had originally intended to go. That meant, in turn, that postal services could begin to resume, and vital blood supplies and transplant organs could once again be ferried to patients in most urgent need of them around the country.

But the condition for this resumption of service was a heavy overhaul of security procedures, with unknown consequences for the future cost of air travel, the time needed at airports to undergo exhaustive personal and baggage checks, the financial viability of airlines, particularly the smaller carriers, and – perhaps most telling – the willingness of business and personal travellers to get on a plane at all.

Norman Mineta, the Transportation Secretary, announced the resumption of air services in Washington.

But from now on, there will be no more kerbside baggage check-ins, a common convenience provided for long- distance travellers, and no access to the departure and arrival gates for anyone not holding a ticket. Instead of a single screening for checked bags and hand luggage, there will be probably be two or three, and the checkers will no longer be minimum-wage workers but seasoned security personnel.

Mr Mineta said that he had asked the military for members of its elite counterterrorist Delta Force to help bolster the number of federal air marshals, who are to be on board domestic flights in future.

Airport staff and aviation experts canvassed by the television networks talked about delays of up to three hours ahead of departing flights. Financial experts predicted that some of the smaller airlines, already besieged by the muscle-flexing behaviour of the bigger carriers, will go out of business.

Already before Tuesday's calamity, market analysts had predicted losses of about $2.6bn for the airline industry this year because of the slowing economy. Nobody was offering a prediction yesterday of what the figure might now be.

Aviation is hardly the only sector that is likely to consider this week's events the economic equivalent of a severe earthquake.

The insurance liability arising from the destruction of the World Trade Centre and the deaths of thousands of people with life assurance policies was estimated yesterday to be well in excess of $10bn – and that does not include the tens of billions of dollars in damage not covered because of waivers for acts of terrorism.

Media outlets and the entertainment industry also looked to be in for a walloping, as advertising simply dried up for concerts, plays, films and other cultural events. Lincoln Centre in the heart of Manhattan bravely went ahead with a retrospective of the Iranian film maker Amir Naderi, described by the entertainment newspaper Variety as an unenviably hard sell.

Many concerts and film openings were simply postponed or cancelled, as was a whole roster of sports events from the professional baseball league (no games at least until the weekend) and the USPGA world championship of golf.

Across the country, the streets of the biggest cities remained eerily quiet yesterday. People were for the most part going to work, but for shortened days and only to attend to essential business.

Shops were bereft of customers, and restaurant reservation managers did not even bother to jot down the names of people calling to book a 7.30 table for four – for the most part, they could have their pick of whichever table they wanted.

Despite some isolated incidents, there have been surprisingly few reports of looting – particularly in New York, where one might have expected criminals to take advantage of the confusion – or price inflation. Some petrol station owners who jacked up their prices from about $1.50 to as much as $5 on Tuesday and Wednesday had lowered them again by yesterday under public and media pressure. Hotels, which have done excellent business because so many people have been stranded away from home, have largely resisted the temptation to increase their rates.

One luxury hotel in west Los Angeles, the W in Westwood, even thought to offer its guests a conciliatory gesture– a bed of prawns on ice, served with black napkins to symbolise the nation's mourning.

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