On her morning shuttle flight from Boston yesterday, Judith Weader of Sharon, Mass., said passengers groaned when they were ordered to remain seated for 30 minutes before landing at Reagan National Airport.
Groaning over the 30-minute rule has passed into history. The regulation, which required passengers to stay in their seats while over Washington air space, was abolished last evening.
Frequent fliers cheered the decision but many said the demise of the three-year-old rule would not change their travel habits. To many travelers, the stay-in-your-seat requirement was just another of the many nuisances of air travel, along with slow security lines, an absence of on-board meals and frequent delays.
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said earlier this week that the rule was no longer necessary because other security measures are now in place, such as hardened cockpit doors and armed federal air marshals aboard Washington flights.
In another sign of easing security, National Airport will be reopened to private aviation in mid-August, the Transportation Security Administration said yesterday. But the rules for private aircraft landing in the capital will be strict, including background checks for flight crews and TSA-licensed law enforcement officers on board every flight.
The high-priced shuttle route between Washington and New York is one of the most lucrative for Delta Air Lines Inc.and US Airways Group Inc. Demand, however, has declined 18 percent in the past four years, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. Many passengers have shifted to the train or cut back on travel altogether.
"Our customers have said that while they understand the reason for this [30-minute] rule, they find it to be an inconvenience," said Amy Kudwa, spokeswoman for US Airways. "I'm certain they will welcome this move."
Bertrand Ouellette, who was at National yesterday afternoon for a US Airways flight to Boston, said the 30-minute rule had forced him to strategically schedule his bathroom trips.
"It seems like just when they would make the [30-minute] announcement, I would have to go," said Ouellete, who flies to Washington once a month for business.
Some travelers have complained they have had to stay seated for the shuttle flight because the standard aviation requirement to keep seat belts fastened during ascent and descent precludes getting up at all during short flights.
But even that was not as bad as other travel aggravations, said Weader. She pointed to the long security lines and said, "This is more annoying than the 30-minute rule."
Some train travelers said they are not rushing to take the shuttle now that the rule has been lifted. Many prefer the train for its convenience and its arrival right into New York and Washington, eliminating the need to drive from the airport.
Judah Ginsberg, a manager of National Historic Chemical Landmarks program, travels twice a month from Washington to New York by plane or train. He said that the rule did not keep him off the shuttle but that he's "glad it's gone." Waiting to board an Amtrak train at Union Station on Thursday, Ginsberg added that he was not planning to take the shuttle more often now that the rule is gone.
Ending the 30-minute requirement will be seen as a step in the right direction, said Kevin Mitchell, chairman of the Business Travel Coalition.
"It's one more onerous layer of burden that's going to be lifted," he said. But, he added, passengers ultimately will chose the quickest and most convenient route when making travel plans.
Jason Finkelstein of Rosslyn, a devoted train traveler, said the 30-minute rule did not make him feel any safer. He said he avoids air travel whenever possible. "I like to keep my feet on the ground," he said.
Jason Finkelstein waits for a train at Union Station. He says National's 30-minute rule didn't make him feel safer.
Kurt Graetzer travels from Washington to New York often. He says the 30-minute rule wasn't inconvenient, but sometimes weather prompts him to take the train.