A glimpse of the future

New security promises obstacles for air travelers

Auto industry consultant Jerry Barefoot just got a glimpse of the new era of business travel, and it's not pretty. An increased security consciousness promises more obstacles.

He was caught at Chicago's O'Hare Airport Tuesday morning when the nation's airports were locked down, stranding thousands of travelers. Tightened security at the airports rippled through the rest of the $185-billion-a-year business travel industry, including hotels, car rental companies and others.

Barefoot, a principal with Barefoot Cramer & Associates LLC of Birmingham, Mich., was at an airport meeting room in discussions with investors planning automotive industry acquisitions. Airport authorities stepped in to warn all travelers to leave because security could not be guaranteed.

Even attempts to reconvene the meeting were frustrated because of a shortage of rental cars. "There wasn't a rental car available in the Midwest,'' Barefoot said. The last resort was lining up with hundreds of bumped business travelers at Chicago's Union Station.

"Here were guys who knew their way around every airport in the nation trying to figure out how to use a train,'' he said. The flight to Chicago took about an hour, the trip back five times as long.

Air travel at Detroit Metropolitan Airport, one of the most frequently used by auto industry executives, is bound to change, say industry experts. Handling the 35 million annual departures and arrivals at Detroit Metro is bound to slow as new levels of security are added.

Kevin Mitchell, president of the Business Travel Coalition in Radnor, Pa., an organization that represents businesses on aviation issues, predicts more security and stiffer requirements on security personnel. More sophisticated scanning equipment to better spot weapons will follow soon.

Armed guards, bomb-sniffing dogs, an end to curbside luggage checking and other measures will add to security, but at a cost. Delays will grow, and the cost of air travel can only increase, they say. Moreover, the burden is likely to fall on passengers and shipping companies.

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