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US Airline Workers Optimistic After Bush Speech


Airline workers hope President Bush's newly-announced security measures for airports and airplanes will convince more people it is safe to fly.

President Bush's speech to airline workers at Chicago's O'Hare Airport on new security measures often had the feel of a pep rally. "Get on the airlines," he said. "Get about the business of America."

American Airlines flight attendant Michelle Simon was glad to hear the president's new security plans, but said she felt safe flying even before they were announced. "I am going to work," she said. "I go to work. I have two small children and a husband. I would never fly if I thought it wasn't safe."

As the president spoke, plane after plane took off from a runway a few hundred meters away. But airline workers know most of those planes are no more than half-full these days. Americans seem hesitant about returning to the skies after seeing the hijackings and terrorist attacks earlier this month in New York and Washington.

American Airlines flight attendant Kim Gregory hopes the new security measures will be convince more people to get back on a plane. "I hope very, very soon," she said. "We all fear for our jobs and for the nation. The airlines are a very big part of that."

Last week, Congress approved a $15 billion bailout to help airlines make up for billions lost when all flights were grounded in the days after the attacks. In addition to the new security measures announced Thursday, the president says several of his cabinet members will take commercial flights on Friday. American Airlines flight attendant Kelly Kellett appreciates the vote of confidence. "I think just him saying that he was putting people from the government on [commercial] airplanes is going to help," she said. "If the government is trusting us enough to get people from A-to-B safely, then I do believe that the public will feel more comfortable getting back on airplanes."

The president's plan includes putting armed federal marshals aboard more passenger flights, $500 million to fortify airplane cockpit doors and putting the federal government in charge of airport security and screening. National Guard troops will help with airport security in the short-term.

Not included in the plan is a proposal to let some pilots carry weapons. American Airlines pilot Chuck Barnett would have been willing. "I think we are the last line of security for our passengers," he said. "As such, we should have all means available to keep our passengers safe."

White House officials say the nation's passenger traffic system is back to a near-normal number of flights, although most airlines have reduced schedules. For United Airlines flight attendant Rhonda Podkowa, it is only a matter of time before those planes are full again. "I think the American people have to be faithful," she said. "If you have faith in your country, and we all do, and you like to fly, just go back to doing what you did before. Do not be affected by these people. Show them what we are made of."

Ms. Podkowa points out that the nation's traditionally-busiest air travel period - from Thanksgiving in November to Christmas in December - is less than two months away.