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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, December 31, 2001

'Confusion' at airport angers passengers

 •  Security lapse throws airport into turmoil
 •  Airports have history of errors

By Walter Wright
Advertiser Staff Writer

Thousands of passengers jamming curbsides and corridors of Honolulu International Airport during a two-hour false alarm yesterday seemed resigned to the need for security, and even to glitches in new security systems, but many were frustrated at the chaos they said resulted.

"This is ridiculous," said American Airlines passenger Billy Cooper of Hot Springs, Ark., after waiting several hours to check in for his flight to Dallas. "I understand the need for security, but it was total confusion after they told us to evacuate. We don't know where to go or what line to stand in."

"It's the pits," said Cecilia Napihaa of Kapolei, waiting for her sister Ethel, who was traveling in a wheelchair and with an oxygen supply, to arrive on a delayed Hawaiian Airlines flight from Kahului.

"First they told us she was coming in at 1:55 and they would have her at the curb, and we could just drive around until we saw her, but she wasn't there," Napihaa said.

"To think this happened because of one little lady" Napihaa said, referring to the private security guard who didn't react quickly enough to a computer generated "test" image of a gun on an X-ray machine. It was that security breach that sparked the shutdown.

Greg Wolfsheimer, a captain for Northwest Airlines, stood in line with fellow pilot Charles Brown waiting for a flight to Seattle after arriving from Tokyo at the controls of a 747 filled with Japanese visitors to Hawai'i.

"It's part of the system that we are going through now," Wolfsheimer said. "It's a new system for all of us —Êeverything we do is different, from the procedures we have in the cockpit to our day-to-day living.

"It's part of everyday living today in America."

Brown agreed but added "the people doing the scanning need to be more attentive to what they are doing, and, obviously, the law enforcement needs to be closer at hand to make an immediate response so that this doesn't happen."

Elizabeth Dankaro, a Nigerian-born jewelry designer from Los Angeles, said she thought the delays were part of normal security procedures. She was headed home after a week's vacation in Hawai'i.

"Of course, it's mandatory now, anyone could be crazy, but then again, an extra two hours at the airport, I would rather have been in Waikiki," Dankaro said.

"We didn't have a delay, we just had to darn wait," said Ethel Lemons of Eden, N.C., who had just finished a Hawaiian cruise and was scheduled for a late-night flight home.

Her grandson, Sammy Martin, operator of Kings Inn Pizza Parlor in Eden, said "as far as what happened in New York and that type of thing, I'm way for security. I don't want to crash into a tall building and you probably don't either. We need to crack down more on security."

Dexter Espinueva of Kailua, Kona, arrived in Honolulu three hours late and said other passengers waiting for flights from Kona yesterday tried to rush past the security check point there when the airport finally re-opened.

"The guards stopped them and said, 'Hey, we'll just have to shut down this airport, too,' " said Espinueva, who works at the Four Seasons resort. "I would say this thing today was an uncalled delay of game. It's the holiday season, and this takes time out of the day we came over to see family."

Airport hot dog vendor Helen Claveria of Waipahu said she was in the interisland terminal when suddenly "there were security, National Guard, police running everywhere, and they made everyone leave and the people on the planes had to get off and go back."

The disruption worked for and against her, she said. Inside the secured areas, there were no customers, but when she came out into the lobby Claveria found hundreds of people who hadn't eaten for hours.

"I think I sold 200 hot dogs in two hours," she said.

Staff writer Scott Ishikawa contributed to this report.