What’s it like to fly?

Planning to fly this week? There’s good news and bad news for travelers who are headed to the airport.

First the good news: the dire warnings of lengthy check-in procedures and frequent delays are, in some cases, unnecessary. Passengers who took to the skies after last week’s terrorist attacks report that while security is often noticeably stricter, check-in times remain short, and they’re still reaching their destination on time.

Which brings us to the bad news: despite a new directive by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that tightens security precautions at U.S. airports, there are widespread reports that the new safety measures are being enforced haphazardly. While this may get you to where you’re going quicker in the short term, many travelers fear the breaches could eventually also lead to a repeat of September 11.

For now, though, most passengers are just grateful to be home.

Mieke Tankink, whose daughters Michele and Tara just returned to Los Angeles from Honolulu, says, despite a longer check-in process and some additional security, the flight was “on-time and uneventful.”

David Stratton, who flew back to Salt Lake City from Anchorage late last week, says he was surprised by how fast and efficient the flight went. “As I entered the check in line, I figured it would be a long wait. However, they had every station manned and had addition people helping get the next person in line to an open station. They also had free soft drinks available in the back of the check-in area,” he reports.

Stratton and other passengers say the biggest inconvenience is not being able to carry any sharp objects on the plane, including scissors, nail clippers, and even money clips. Security guards are confiscating any such objects before travelers may board an aircraft.

But other than that, air travel appears to have returned to normal, if passengers like George Sinner are to be believed. Sinner, who lives in Towaco, N.J., flew from Raleigh/Durham to Newark on Saturday. He arrived at the airport more than three hours early, anticipating a long wait.

“Lines were short and the airport was almost empty,” he says. “The check-in went smoothly with an extra stamp added to our boarding passes after photo ID was made by the agent. I hate to say this, but it was one of the most pleasant flights I have ever experienced. Our fears of problems and delays were unfounded.”

“I do wonder about the future,” he adds.

So do a lot of travelers. Kelly Mooney, whose husband returned late last week to Salt Lake City from Charlotte, says the journey was “highly disconcerting.”

“In his opinion, security had not changed in the slightest. I believe this country is prepared to be inconvenienced at the airport. Charlotte, however, did not live up to its security responsibilities,” she says.

Agrees Caroline Godec of Litchfield CT, whose flight was delayed by two days: “Safety was marginal. The cockpit open during the flights and many other breaches of security were evident. There were scores of additional security personnel, yet they were all lost and wondering around. The ‘new’ security system is still too lax. What will it take to change it?”

The FAA is believed to be working on long-term safety solutions, but some of the measures are impossible to implement overnight. For example, instituting baggage-matching-the practice of making sure each bag belongs to a flying passenger-could take weeks, if not months to put into place. Adding new high-tech security scanners that detect explosives could take months or years.

“What has been done relative to security is admirable, but in some areas it is knee-jerk in the approach and application,” says Steve Shattuck, a commercial airline pilot who says he has a “strange feeling” about flying again. “New York and Washington, I regret to say, were just a down payment for what is to come.”

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