ROMULUS Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport and airline officials struggled to accommodate hundreds of stranded passengers following yesterday”s order from the Federal Aviation Administration grounding all flights across the country.
About 10 planes bound for other destinations were rerouted to Detroit after the cancellation order at about 9:45 a.m. Flights en route to Detroit were also diverted to the nearest airport.
More than one thousand flights from 18 major air carriers take off and land at Detroit Metro every day, most of them by Northwest Airlines. The airport expects to resume its flight services at noon today.
At the Northwest baggage claim, hundreds of passengers searched for their luggage. Northwest employees, toting bullhorns and passenger lists, handed out the bags one by one.
Some passengers diverted to the airport were bewildered to find themselves in Detroit. One man, who was traveling from Minnesota to Boston, said the pilot of his flight had not even announced that the flight was landing in Detroit or the reason why.
“They said nothing,” said Mathieu Roy of Quebec. “I got off the plane and thought I was in Boston. But I looked up at the sign and said, “Oh boy.””
Tim Matsuura of St. Cloud, Minn., was heading to Hanover, N.H., for his freshman orientation at Dartmouth College.
“We were told we would be circling near (Detroit) and they didn”t say anything on the flight,” he said. “It wasn”t until we got off that a lady told us what was up.”
Northwest tried to secure hotel rooms for its passengers but was soon forced to hand out blankets, pillows and overnight toiletry cases.
Hotel rooms around the airport became substantially more expensive as the day progressed.
A single room at the Days Inn in Romulus normally costs about $80 a night, according to its website. Last night, the hotel was charging $140 for a single room. A Northwest employee, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the nearby hotel chains began refusing the airline rooms at their contracted, discounted rate.
Robert Ball, vice-president of customer service ground operations for Northwest, said at an afternoon press conference that the airline was able to accommodate most of its passengers. The airline waived all ticket change fees for stranded travelers and is offering refunds or transportation credits for passengers who were unable to fly out yesterday. Northwest, he said, has no concerns over the extra costs that the day”s shutdown will create for the airline.
While the airline was kept busy with its own passengers, Ball said it was also assisting the other airlines. Special sympathies, he said, are extended to United and American airlines, who lost two planes each to the terrorist attack.
In this situation, he said, “the only emotion missing is (the relief) that your plane wasn”t it.”
“The airline community is very close and we”re doing everything possible to help our comrades,” he said.
Wayne County was no exception to the nationwide shutdowns in response to the attacks in Washington D.C. and Manhattan. The county activated its Emergency Operations Center and maintained its highest state of alert.
Mark Sparks, the county”s director of emergency management, said “we are at the maximum level of preparedness we could be in Wayne County.”
Emergency personnel, ranging from structural engineers to medical examiners could be sent to New York or New Jersey to aid in the relief effort, he said. Sparks also implored residents to contact the Red Cross to donate blood.
In Detroit, the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center, City Hall and the U.S. District Court building were all closed for the day. A voluntary evacuation was issued for the Renaissance Center, which houses the headquarters of General Motor Co., and security across the border to Canada was tightened. The Windsor-Detroit tunnel was temporarily closed and the Ambassador Bridge was closed for the day.
All Detroit offices are expected to reopen today, along with the bridge.
Closings in Michigan
o At Michigan”s tallest building, Detroit”s Renaissance Center, General Motors Corp. gave its 6,000 headquarters employees the day off.
o Ford Motor Co. closed its world headquarters in Dearborn.
o Security was tightened at all U.S.-Canada border crossings, including the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel and the Ambassador Bridge.
o Security was heightened for Great Lakes shipping, with the closing of the U.S. section of the St. Lawrence Seaway. The Coast Guard was inspecting ships at the St. Marys River, which links Lakes Huron and Superior, before they entered the Soo Locks.
o Wayne County declared a state of emergency.
o The Detroit Tigers-Minnesota Twins game at Comerica Park Tuesday night was canceled, as were all major league baseball games.