‘Nervous' Pirnie lone passenger aboard the first flight leaving Imperial airport

September 16, 2001|By KELLY GRANT, Staff Writer

IMPERIAL — Though Mitch Pirnie travels by airplane often as part of his job, his flight out of Imperial County Airport on Friday was not the run-of-the-mill affair to which he'd become accustomed.

Pirnie was the first commercial airline passenger to fly out of Imperial's airport since Tuesday's terrorist hijackings. He also was the lone passenger on the 12:15 p.m. United Express flight to Los Angeles.

"I'm definitely more nervous about flying now than before, but I'm confident it will be safe," he said.

Unlike the scores of travelers across the country whose schedules were disrupted by the ban on commercial flights last week, Pirnie had originally planned to be on this flight before Tuesday's tragedies. Though his plans to fly to L.A. and then on to his home in Omaha, Neb., were going smoothly Friday, Pirnie had been in communication with travel agents and others to examine possible back-up plans should he not have been able to fly out of Imperial.


"We looked at flying out of Phoenix, Yuma, Palm Springs and San Diego," Pirnie said.

Pirnie, who works for CalEnergy, said some of his colleagues stranded in upstate New York were planning on driving to Omaha.

Earlier flights to and from Imperial on Friday had already been canceled and United Express agents were still uncertain two hours before take-off if the Los Angeles flight would actually leave.

The confusion of ever-changing flight schedules, cancellations and re-routings had employees at Imperial County's United Express ticket desk busy answering phone calls from inquiring passengers.

Like any other United States airport, Imperial County is taking extra precautions to protect passengers and flight crews, said local United Express station Supervisor Rene Coronado.

The driveway immediately in front of the terminal is closed to traffic and only ticketed passengers are allowed beyond security points, Coronado said.

"We've never had curbside check-in, so that hasn't changed," he added.

While yelling "Bomb!" in an airport has never been a smart idea, Coronado said people need to be even more careful with what they say.

"People really have to watch their language. Joking about anything is very serious and will be dealt with," Coronado said.

Pirnie said he had already carefully gone through his luggage to get rid of questionable items before coming to the airport.

"I purged all my carry-ons. No nail clippers or pocket knives," he said.

Pirnie also arrived early for his flight and called ahead to confirm it hadn't been canceled, things airport officials, including Coronado, recommend.

With that first flight Friday, Imperial County Airport is slowly getting back to business.

"We're ready to go," Coronado said.

Staff Writer Kelly Grant can be reached at 337-3441.

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