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Air Travel is Not Easy Since 9-11

Aug 21, 2008
If you think you have problems with air travel these days, here is part of a story from the POLITICO NEWS by DANIEL LIBIT & RICHARD T. CULLEN

Serving in Congress has its privileges, but avoiding the perils of modern air travel isn't one of them.

Just ask the three senators who are running for president.

Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) have both missed campaign events because of flight delays; when a radar problem grounded flights in September, Clinton phoned in a planned appearance at a union convention in Chicago from the tarmac of the airport in Little Rock, Ark. Illinois Democratic Sen. Barack Obama's plane landed at the wrong Iowa airport in November and ran into another plane at Chicago's Midway International Airport in January.

They aren't alone. While the candidates spend more time on the road than most of their colleagues, members of Congress, especially those from the West, do a pretty good job of racking up the frequent flier miles themselves.

They've got the horror stories to prove it.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.)

The country's busiest airport is named in honor of his brother, but neither that, nor the fact that he is a sitting U.S. senator, could save Sen. Edward M. Kennedy from existential airport torment in March 2004.According to a story in The Washington Post, the senator was stopped five times in airports that month because his name had been placed on a Homeland Security no-fly list after a terrorist suspect had been found to be using the alias "T. Kennedy."

At a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in August 2004, Kennedy described the Kafkaesque scene as an airline ticket counter agent told him he wouldn't be allowed to buy a ticket to Boston. "Well, why not?" Kennedy asked.

"We can't tell you," the agent replied.

Kennedy ultimately got on a flight, only to endure the same rigmarole when he tried to return to Washington. "I went up to the desk and said, 'I've been getting on this plane for 42 years. Why can't I get on the plane?'"

Kennedy got his name removed from the list and got an apology from then-Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, to boot.

It didn't matter. Shortly thereafter, a different airline agent tried to stop him.

Rep. Adrian Smith (R-Neb.)

On a good day, when he flies back home to the tiny town of Gering in westernmost Nebraska, Rep. Adrian Smith can depart from Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport by as late as 6 p.m. Eastern time and still make it to his doorstep by 9:45 p.m. Mountain time. For living in a rural area, Smith says he feels quite fortunate for this.

But fortune often turns against Smith when he flies to the eastern part of his district, a journey that requires him to stop over at one of the vertices of the Heartland's Bermuda Triangle: Minneapolis, Chicago or Kansas City, Mo. The worst came last February, when Smith was destined for some speaking engagements in Lincoln but wound up stuck at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport for 12 hours. "The short weekends, when it looks like you're going to miss the main event, you wonder whether you should even continue the trip or just go back to D.C.," he said.

Because of his traveling travails, Smith has become both an admirer of Capitol Hill schedulers, whom he's come to regard as "artists" and a proponent of the federally funded expansion of America's second-busiest airport. "First opportunity I have to help expansion of O'Hare, I want to do it," he said. "I think it's a national issue."

And a Nebraska issue, as well.

Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska)

Perhaps there was no better place to be in Alaska on March 27, 1964, than in the air. That's where Sen. Ted Stevens was when the state was rocked by the most powerful earthquake ever recorded in North America.

Stevens, who was just getting started in electoral politics, was on an Alaska Airlines flight from Anchorage to Fairbanks when the earthquake struck. Late that night, Stevens and a cadre of doctors flew back to Anchorage on a chartered F-27. He says everyone was "really worried about landing."

"When we approached the regular field, it was blown out," Stevens said. "It was a hairy night."

The plane was forced to touch down at Elmendorf Air Force Base. With the roads fissured by the quake, the passengers had to get into town by foot. Stevens made it home at 2:30 a.m., only to discover that the part of town where he lived had suffered serious damage in the earthquake.

It wasn't the senator's only plane-related scare. He had a rough landing onto Mt. McKinley in a bush plane in 1969, and he remembers a trip out of Hawaii on a military transport plane that had to return to the airport because of mechanical complications.

When asked whether any of these experiences have made him hesitant to fly, the 85-year-old senator harrumphs. "Oh, hell no," he said. "I flew in World War II. I've flown through all sorts of danger. I don't have any problem with that."
About the Author
For tips on how to avoid your major problems with travel and make it an enjoyable experience, go to http://rcbenterpriz.com/travel
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