GRAND RAPIDS — As expected, security around air travel has tightened in recent weeks as a result of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11.
The Gerald R. Ford International Airport also has seen its share of changes.
“The Ford has long been considered an easy airport to use,” said airport marketing and communication manager Bruce Schedlbauer. “And we’re still in today’s environment trying to maintain that. Recent events have created a different world for air travel, but it is ultimately for the benefit of the flying public.”
Schedlbauer advises travelers to arrive at the airport at least 90 minutes in advance —nearly double the recommended arrival time of six months ago.
The Ford now has a Web site with current flight information, flygrandrapids.org, updated every few minutes. Departure and arrival information is available on the Web site, and Schedlbauer says it is usually just as current as the screens at the terminal.
Upon arriving at the airport, travelers will find a few changes in parking procedures.
The short-term or hourly lot was unavailable after Sept. 11, due to an FAA regulation requiring all vehicles to be parked at least 300 feet from the terminal.
The county’s Aeronautics Board petitioned the FAA to allow the lot to be reopened, and it became available again Nov. 7. But all cars entering the short-term lot are searched, so drivers planning to park there should be aware that they may encounter traffic lines.
The same security concerns led to the elimination of 5-minute parking in front of the terminal.
Travelers being dropped off there by family or associates will not be allowed to leave the vehicle unattended for any amount of time. The airport stresses that each vehicle have at least one person in contact with it at all times.
Valet parking is still available and the airport encourages it, noting it has dropped the price from $17 a day to $12 a day to better accommodate travelers.
Airport authorities require photo identification at terminal check-in, at the security checkpoints at each concourse entrance, and when boarding the plane. No one will be allowed onto the concourse without a boarding pass.
National guard troops are visible throughout the airport, but are ordered to have no direct interaction with the public except in emergencies.
Schedlbauer said luggage lockers are no longer available and that travelers should expect laptops, cellular phones and other electronic equipment to be thoroughly inspected. Travelers should not be surprised to be asked to drink any liquid they plan to bring on the flight, nor should they be surprised to have personal hygiene items like tweezers, nail clippers or small scissors confiscated.
“We have a bin with hundreds of them in there,” Schedlbauer said.
Also, a system has been put in place in which travelers will be randomly selected and thoroughly searched.
“I myself was searched twice (recently) in different airports,” Schedlbauer said. “There was a very, very thorough search of each bag.”
He said several airliner captains have surprised travelers with pre-flight advice to attack and subdue anyone trying to take over the plane. He said the practice is not commonplace and is not sanctioned by the FAA or airlines, but neither is it discouraged.
Regardless of current debates whether to federalize or nationalize airport security personnel, flight security still is the airlines’ responsibility.
Regulations for the types of items allowed on flights vary for each airline, but Schedlbauer advises that travelers carry aboard as little as possible. He recommends contacting the airline in advance with any questions or special circumstances.
“If I had a concern about getting something on the plane,” Schedlbauer said, citing prescription drugs and hypodermic syringes as possible concerns, “I think the best time to find out the airlines’ regulations would probably not be five minutes before getting on the plane.”
As the holidays approach, he added, travelers should remember that gift-wrapped packages will not be allowed on most airlines. Travelers, therefore, either should pack them in checked luggage or wait to wrap them until reaching their destination.