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Archive for Thursday, September 13, 2001

Stranded airline travelers turn to ground transportation

September 13, 2001

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The Lawrence man needed time to rest after he and four colleagues rented a minivan in Washington, D.C., and drove more than 16 hours to get back to friends and family in Kansas.

Henriquez and other stranded travelers filled rental cars, buses and trains a day after terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.C., prompted federal officials to ground all air travel in the United States for the first time in history.

Available rental vehicles soon were spoken for by bumped airline passengers.

In Lawrence, Hertz Rent-A-Car put a freeze on one-way bookings before noon Tuesday, said Charlie Nimz, acting manager for Hertz, 1120 E. 23rd St. It's loosened only slightly since.

"If I would've booked all of our one-way deals we had a chance to book, we would have had cars strung out all over the United States of America," said Nimz, whose branch has turned away more than three dozen requests for cars. "Everybody's in the same situation."

Enterprise Rent-A-Car announced on its Web site that it could not fill reservations at least through Wednesday because it was out of vehicles.

Henriquez and his travel mates counted themselves lucky because they rented their van early Tuesday before other travelers flooded the rental companies. They left about 2:30 p.m. Tuesday from Washington, D.C., and arrived at 7 a.m. Wednesday at Kansas City International Airport to pick up their cars.

"Then we came home and gave all of our families big hugs," Henriquez said. Now he must figure out how to return the van to the East Coast.

But the group may be able to scrap its plan to have one member drive the van back to D.C. and then fly home. Many rental companies -- such as Hertz, Alamo and Avis -- were allowing customers who rented cars Tuesday between certain times to drop them off at any company location in the United States at no extra charge.

The rental car shortage didn't keep people from getting home. But it slowed them down.

Trains, buses, taxis

Douglas County Commissioner Charles Jones was returning by train Wednesday night from Chicago and was unable to attend a joint meeting of the city and county commissions.

Passenger trains were as busy Tuesday and Wednesday as they are during the holiday season, said Kathleen Cantillon, communications director for Amtrak Intercity, based in Chicago.

"Basically, we have more than twice the average number of riders on most of our trains nationwide," she said.

Donna Hill, an agent at Lawrence's Greyhound bus station, 2447 W. Sixth St., said buses had been fuller since Tuesday and she'd sold several tickets to people whose flights to other states had been canceled.

On Tuesday, Deanell Tacha, chief judge of the 10th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in Denver, was in Washington for a judicial conference. She said Wednesday afternoon that she had to be in Denver today and didn't know how she would get there.

In addition to long lines Wednesday at rental car stores in the D.C. area, Tacha said she'd even heard stories of desperate folks trying to hire taxi drivers to get them to their far-away homes.

Scott Richardson, a Lawrence resident who was at a business breakfast next door to the twin towers when the planes struck, originally was scheduled to fly home Wednesday. Instead, he and a colleague checked out of their hotel and took a train to a friend's house in Connecticut. They'll drive home in a rental car.

"I'm not sure when the airports will open," Richardson said. "But we're assuming New York's will be the last airport to open."

Two Nascar racing teams stranded Tuesday at Lawrence Municipal Airport rented vans to drive home, but the pilots were waiting for word from the Federal Aviation Administration that they'd be able to take off, said Lloyd Hetrick, president of Hetrick Aircraft, which operates the airport.

"We're just -- like everybody else -- waiting to see what's going on," Hetrick said.

-- Staff writer Mindie Paget can be reached at 832-7187.

-- Staff writers Dave Ranney, Joel Mathis and Mark Fagan contributed to this story.

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