Ticket and Travel Troubles Cloud Inauguration Success
Thursday, January 22, 2009
Rick DeFilippi and Lucy Arrington of Cambridge, Mass., made detailed plans to see the presidential inauguration. They bought round-trip tickets from Boston on US Airways and obtained passes for the Capitol lawn from a congressional office. They stayed at a hotel in downtown Washington and walked to the Capitol early Tuesday morning, thinking they had plenty of time to get inside.
Instead, like at least several thousand other inaugural visitors, the New England couple left Washington disappointed.
First, their inaugural tickets were useless because the security gates were shut while they were waiting in a long, slow-moving line in the frigid Third Street tunnel, so they watched the historic swearing-in of President Obama in their hotel.
"We ran into massive crowds, and we worked our way through and were told we couldn't get in that way," Arrington said. "We went to the next gate and ended up in a tunnel of doom."
Then, when they tried to leave town yesterday morning, the lines at Reagan National Airport were so long they missed their flight and ended up departing hours later.
Both coming and going, some out-of-towners discovered that their hopes for smooth and happy participation in the largest inaugural celebration in memory were marred by long lines, missed trains and planes, security breakdowns and chaotic crowds.
By most accounts, only minor hassles beset the vast majority of the crowd, officially estimated by the District at 1.8 million. But for a vocal minority, the trip of a lifetime turned sour.
Hundreds of irate people phoned congressional offices and media outlets, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) demanded an investigation. More than 1,500 joined the Facebook group Survivors of the Purple Tunnel of Doom, which chronicles the ordeal of thousands stuck in lines in the Third Street tunnel, waiting in vain for admission to the inauguration.
Senate Sergeant at Arms Terrance W. Gainer estimated that 4,000 ticket holders were in line as the swearing-in was about to begin. Numerous witnesses told The Washington Post that they thought the number was higher.
People said they stood in long lines that never reached the security gates, that there were far too few police and officials on hand to direct or control the crowds, or that they were given confusing information and sent in the wrong direction. In the end, many gave up and left in disgust.
"We did everything we were supposed to do, caught the Metro to the Capitol by 6:30 a.m. and got into line," said Gary Love, an investment banker from San Francisco who inched his way to the security gate for hours only to see it shut in his face at 11:45 a.m.
"The crowd was getting huge, but we never saw a single police officer in three hours. I came all the way from California, and this was a priceless moment to me. But I ended up huddled around someone's radio, trying to hear the last half of Obama's speech," Love said.