Day of Terror: Air attacks rock U.S. landmarks

NEW YORK -- In the worst attack on the U.S. since Pearl Harbor, a coordinated series of hijackings and suicide missions destroyed New York's World Trade Center, damaged the Pentagon, killed or injured untold numbers of people, and shut down the U.S. transportation system.

Travel Weekly staff reporting to work on the morning of Sept. 11 could see the smoke billowing from the top of the World Trade Center as the two aircraft struck, each hitting one of the Trade Center towers.

About an hour later, the twin towers, the crowning glory of New York City's skyline, were gone.

Washington

In Washington, the U.S. government came under attack as an aircraft, reported to have been hijacked, crashed into the west front of the Pentagon. The resulting explosion and fire caused numerous casualties and collapsed a portion of the building.

Most government offices in Washington were evacuated, including the White House, the Capitol and the State Department. Federal employees were sent home and numerous other offices in the area closed for the day, including ASTA's headquarters in nearby Alexandria, Va.

Within moments, there were widespread reports of other incidents including word of a hijacked plane down in western Pennsylvania. Widespread speculation thought it might have been headed for Camp David, Md.

The shutdown of the transportation system was pervasive, with the FAA's immediate order to close all U.S. airports. Inbound international flights already in the air were being rerouted to Canada.

Far from the epicenter of the attacks in the East, cities tightened security, focusing on skyscrapers that might be vulnerable to suicide missions such as the one in New York.

For example, in San Francisco, major office towers, including Bank of America and Transamerica, shut down and were evacuated for security reasons, and Bay area bridges, including the landmark Golden Gate Bridge were placed on high alert, although they remained open.

As this issue was going to press, the air transportation system remained shuttered and it was not known when it might reopen.

Apart from the immediate consideration of the near-term future of U.S. civil aviation, travel professionals pondered the longer-term consequences of the stunning assault on U.S. commercial and government landmarks.

And overriding those concerns was the larger question of the effects of the terrorism on travel, particularly by air.

Air space shut down

The transportation disruption was unprecedented. In the wake of the hijackings, the FAA put a "national ground stop" on all aircraft in the U.S., meaning nothing could take off with the exception of military and law enforcement flights. All New York and Washington-area airports were closed and all inbound transatlantic flights were diverted to Canada.

The FAA said it implemented the national ground stop at 9:25 a.m., shortly after the second aircraft struck the World Trade Center. Aircraft already in flight at that time were given permission to continue to their destinations or land at the nearest suitable airport, at each airline's discretion.

As the situation continued to develop about 12:30 p.m. Tuesday, an FAA spokesman said international aircraft destined for the U.S. were being allowed to land in Canada "with certain security measures in place."

As of 12:30 p.m., 50 domestic commercial aircraft were still airborne in U.S. airspace, and "there are no known problems with any of them," an FAA spokesman said. All were within 40 to 50 miles of their destination.

Usually there are 4,000 to 5,000 flights within U.S. air space at that time of day. As a precaution, Air Canada suspended all its flight departures system wide.

The aircraft

American confirmed that it lost two aircraft. American said the flights were Flight 11, a Boeing 767 en route from Boston to Los Angeles with 81 passengers, nine flight attendants and two pilots; and Flight 77, a Boeing 757 operating from Washington Dulles to Los Angeles with 58 passengers, four flight attendants and two pilots.

United confirmed that two of its flights crashed: UA 93, a Boeing 757 aircraft, departed from Newark at 8:01 a.m., bound for San Francisco, with 38 passengers onboard, two pilots, five flight attendants; and UA 175, a Boeing 767 aircraft, departed from Boston at 7:58 a.m. local time, bound for Los Angeles, with 56 passengers onboard, two pilot, and seven flight attendants.

People on the road

Kevin Mitchell, chairman of the Business Travel Coalition, an advocacy group for corporations, sent out an e-mail, inviting travel managers to share suggestions and recommendations in how to deal with the task of serving stranded travelers.

Those companies that receive BTC's daily e-mail were invited to participate in the forum. Debbie Shircliff, travel manager at Indianapolis-based Thomson Multimedia, told Travel Weekly her department is advising travelers to find alternative ways of getting to their destination, like renting a car.

Shircliff said Thomson also advised its travel management firm, TQ3 Maritz Travel Solutions, to cancel all hotel reservations for employees who were supposed to be traveling today, in order to avoid no-show fees.

Jerry Williams, who works in the corporate travel office for Ford Motor Company, said Ford's headquarters in Dearborn, Michigan were evacuated on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Williams said the travel office was in the process of contacting all its stranded travelers.

"We're advising them to get accommodations wherever they happen to be," said Williams. "We're still in the process of locating people."

At OneTravel.com, airport expert Terry Trippler said canceled flights would be considered a "force majeure event," having been caused by a government regulation, demand or requirement.

He said that meant travelers would have the choice of having their tickets refunded -even non-refundable tickets -or accepting alternate arrangements offered by the airline.

Passengers would not be entitled to any compensation or amenities, he said.

Hotel sector

In the hours immediately after the attack, Marriott International, which manages two hotels near the World Trade Center, set up a telephone hotline to handle calls from family members and media. The number is (866) 866-9928.

Marriott also posted updates on its web site, which indicated that the Marriott World Trade Center was evacuated. The firm also operates the Marriott Financial Center, which is a few blocks downtown from the World Trade Center and the Marriott World Trade Center.

A spokesman for Regent International Hotels, which manages the Regent Wall Street in lower Manhattan, said all hotel employees were present and accounted for, and shortly after the tragedy, the property was put in lock down. Guests were also in lock down.

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