"I toyed with the idea of going by train for a few minutes," said Wilhelm Bittor. "But then I figured what the hell. The idea of five or six guys throwing our whole country into panic is ridiculous."
"What really worries me about terrorism," Bittor said, "is how panicprone our people seem to be."
Bittorf was a passenger today on this one-hour Lufthansa flight from Hamburg in northern Germany to Bonn, the West German capital.
Only 30 of the 90 seats on the Boeing 737 jet were filled. It was a holiday in several West German states today, which cut down on air travel. Still, as a Lufthansa ticket agent in Hamburg acknowledged, bookings were down. "Some of our customers are nervous."
Those flying today were among the first to have chose air travel after a terrorist deadline went into effect.
On Nov. 5, letters signed by the West German "Red Army Faction" terrorist gang threatened to blow up three Lufthansa passenger jets in flight starting Nov. 15. This was to avenge the deaths in prison of three former leaders of the Baader-Meinhof gang, who the terrorists insist were murdered although an internationally supervised autoposy confirmed the deaths as sucidies.
Peter Gordon, an Australian on board, flight 861, said he took this flight "very reluctantly." "I am a little frightened but I guess I just took a punt," he said, referring to a gambit on the sports field. "In a way, I was caught in the system, traveling through several countries on an airplane ticket that seems too complicated to change by making a train booking in the middle of it."
"But as I think it over," he added, "there is also a bit of not liking to be intimidated by terrorists in my decision.
"Klans Kuhnert said he had a "slight concern about flying today.
"But there is a certain risk in air travel anyway and the added risk of terrorists somehow setting up a missile and hitting a plane is so low as to be statistically insignificant," he said "So why not be comfortable?"
Like a number of people, Kuhnert said elements of West Germany's "boulevard press," the more sensasional and conservative-run tabloids "have play-up the danger too much. We have terrorists too much on our minds these days. Actually this is probably a time when they will lie low."
Enroute to the plane from the Hamburg terminal, the bus carrying the passengers detoured into a special area where travelers identified the luggage they checked in at the ticket counter an hour earlier. A special squad of Hamburg police, augmenting airport police who were already stretched thin, went through all the suitcases to make sure there were no explosives.
This was just a spot check, however. Other buses go unchecked, which means that many bags go into luggage compartments in a plane's belly that conceivably could carry an explosive if a terrorist on board is willing to commit suicide.
Lufthansa officials acknowledge that is a remote possibility, so they insituted these random and unannounced checks. The Lufthansa network is vast, with more than 150 flights daily in West Germany alone, and officals say that if they had to go through every bag, they would face massive delays at major airports and "we would have to shut down."
[WORD ILLEGIBLE] the Israeli airline, does go through all luggage but they have far fewer flights.
Security around West Germany's airports, however, is heavy. Inspection of carry-on bags has become increasinlgy thorough. In one case, a can of deodorant spray was tested. A tape recorder was made to play, and the keys of a typewriter were pressed to see if anything hidden were blocking them.
The take-off from Hamburg was steep, with the pilot climbing quickly, apparently part of new Lufthansa instructions to vary landing and take-off patterns to avoid giving a good target to any would-be terrorist hiding someplace with a rocket.
Landing near Bonn, however, the jet came in low and straight over miles of woodland that would be virtually impossible to patrol.
Lufthansa officials said it was still too early to tell how badly business would be hurt. If the first 10 or 12 days go by without incident, they expect many air travelers will return.