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Jax Daily Record Thursday, Sep. 13, 200112:00 PM EST

Stranded travelers scrambling for transportation alternatives

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by: Mike Sharkey

With Jacksonville International Airport at a standstill thanks to Tuesday’s suicide terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C., stranded travelers were desperately seeking alternative travel Wednesday.

The rental car industry saw an especially high increase in business starting almost immediately after the Federal Aviation Administration ordered all U.S. airports to shut down and all domestic flights in the air to land at the nearest airport. Although JIA isn’t the busiest airport in the country, within a short while Tuesday, 25 flights made non-scheduled landings in Jacksonville, leaving 3,000 people stranded.

While those who were on long flights were relegated to unplanned vacations in the River City, those heading to closer destinations immediately sought others ways to get there.

Catherine Petros of Alamo car rental on Atlantic Boulevard said she was just about out of cars as of midday Wednesday.

“We did have a significant increase in phone calls,” said Petros. “We have had a great influx of people and we are well on our way to being out cars. Right now we have three cars left.”

Because all of the Alamo facilities are independently run, Petros did not want to speak for any of the other five Alamos in the Jacksonville area. However, she did know one thing about the Alamo at JIA.

“They are out of cars,” she said.

An indication that the other car rental agencies at the airport are in similar situations could be the fact that no one is answering phones and wait times are upwards of 10 minutes.

Greyhound Bus Lines saw some extra traffic. Shortly after the FAA grounded every domestic flight, Greyhound arranged for charter service to several one-day drivable destinations like Miami, Atlanta, Orlando, Tampa and Pensacola. Emma Gray, the district manager for Greyhound, said the bus service saw a little increase in business, but it was too early to tell if people were opting for bus rides over planes rides.

“We saw a little extra traffic,” said Gray. “For the most part the airport put people up at hotels. We did have some added business, but nothing crazy and we did not run out of buses. It did not cramp up business. I am sure the longer the airport stays closed the more it will have a tendency to affect us.”

(As of this morning, JIA had yet to reopen.)

One aspect of Greyhound that was affected by Tuesday’s attack was its routes. Normally, Greyhound can get their passengers to virtually any city in the country. However, Tuesday afternoon Greyhound was not permitted to travel anywhere near the nation’s capital or destinations north of D.C.

“As far back as yesterday [Tuesday] we have been open everywhere with the exception of north of Richmond, Va.,” said Gray. “We were not carrying any passengers beyond Richmond mostly because the stations in Washington, Baltimore and New York were closed. As of this morning [Wednesday], everything was open with the exception of New York City.”

Gray said a contingent of military personnel was scheduled to fly to Parris Island in South Carolina, but not now.

“They canceled their flight and will take the bus,” said Gray, who also has two employees who are supposed to be in Dallas by Monday for meetings. “They were going to fly but have said they don’t want to. They are going to ride the bus.”

Transcontinental shipping has also been affected by the attack. Both United Parcel Service and Federal Express have been grounded and Gray said Greyhound has seen a significant rise in its package shipping business over the last couple of days.

“Our shipping and package express business picked up quite a bit,” said Gray.

Amtrak train service has seen a dramatic rise in passengers since Tuesday. With Americans unsure when the nation’s airports will be reopened, Kajal Jhaveri, a spokeswoman for Amtrak, said calls have been both for immediate travel and from those looking into the near future. However, the increased business has not forced Amtrak to alter its normal schedule.

“We are currently operating under our regular weekday schedule,” said Jhaveri. “Our reservation centers are experiencing a high volume of calls for both long distance and inter city travel since earlier today [Wednesday].”

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