Work for the military police at Tweed-New Haven Airport was light, despite the Thanksgiving rush. At this sleepy New Haven airport, where petitions to open gates three and four lay half-signed in the lobby, the fatigues were mostly there for decoration over the holiday.
Daniel Stone, a truck driver from Meriden and a member of the National Guard, presided over a trickle through the metal detector at gates one and two on Saturday night.
“We’re here in case there’s a need for violent, deadly force,” he said, swaying with a 9 mm Beretta in his back pocket. “So far, there hasn’t even been a drunk person trying to get on a plane.”
As Yalies in full bookstore regalia flew home and back over Thanksgiving break, many saw for the first time how the world outside of New Haven has changed since Sept. 11. But at Tweed, where the planes carry 40 and the tallest building in sight is Harkness Tower, increased security protects against a largely nonexistent threat.
On Thanksgiving, Stone said, the airport’s single set of automatic doors were locked from the inside. He had turkey and mashed potatoes with his wife and two daughters, Envy and Chayenne, at 11 a.m. and came into work at noon. With the two other MPs stationed at Tweed, he watched football on a small TV at a check-in counter for the rest of the day.
“We’re basically just here to assure the American people it’s safe to fly,” he said, “to show there’s some action being taken in every airport.”
In this airport, two puddle-jumpers carry mostly Yalies across the Long Island Sound every three hours or so. There is a machine that sells sandwich triangles in the lobby — is the same room as the ticket check-in — and an on-your-honor coffee system on a card-table by the back window.
Flight 3364, half a fleet of two Piedmont airlines jets parked on the runway Saturday, carried 36 Yalies from Philadelphia to the last weeks of fall semester. It is a Dash 8 with a Maryland-based flight crew of one, not counting the pilots, and the biggest problem on the flight was that the oxygen-mask compartment over seats 2A and 2C kept falling unlatched. No loss of cabin pressure, though.
Flight attendant Kim Detwiler said she hasn’t received any special training since September.
“We’re still learning how to deal with terrorists who actually want to go places,” she said. “They’re teaching us the ‘take-me-to-your-master’ kind still. I’m taking kickboxing.”
It is just to make her feel more prepared, she said, though she concedes she doesn’t have much cause for concern.
“These aircrafts don’t have to worry too much,” she said. “They’re not at the top of the priority list as far as hijacking is concerned.”
On larger planes, the emergency exits are in row 15 or higher. On Detwiler’s plane, they’re on either side of row four, and she takes special care now to make sure everyone seated there understands English and is comfortable with emergency exit procedures.
And for their part, Yale students are being cooperative, she said. The ones waiting in the baggage claim area — which is one side of a plastic-flap curtain through which one Tweed worker throws suitcases from the back of the plane — said they appreciated the higher security, even if it is a bit excessive. The random screenings that invariably turned up tins of cookies and Dell laptops with in-progress seminar papers actually make them feel more secure, many said.
Ken Estrera ’04 said when he came to Tweed to pick up a few Harvard friends for The Game last weekend, airport security searched his car.
“I’m not personally afraid to fly now,” he said. “Actually, stuff like that makes me feel maybe more safe than before.”
Estrera sat in the lobby, camouflaged in a standard-issue Yale sweatshirt, while Stone monitored the X-ray machine for five people waiting to get on Flight 3702 back to Philadelphia. Estrera waited to drive his friend, Tom Ebinger ’04, a passenger of Flight 3364, back to campus.
A line of students with lost baggage grew at the desk, but Ebinger arrived with his, agreeing that he hadn’t been nervous to fly.