Travel schedules returned to near normal yesterday at Washington area airports as most airlines completed safety inspections on the bulk of their grounded DC10 jets, either putting the aircraft into service of accommodating passengers by other means.

One notable exception to the largely smooth resumption of airline service was the Washington Bullets basketball team, whose players were "bumped" from a United Airlines flight out of Seattle yesterday morning.

The team, set to leave Sonics territory at 8:15 a.m. waited at the Seattle airport until the players could catch a 12:45 p.m. flight back to Washington. Even so, their delay was less than the six/hour wait some passengers experienced at the height of re-scheduling problems.

Three airlines at Dulles International Airport and two airlines at Baltimore-Washington International substituted planes or rerouted their passengers to other air carriers until they could get their grounded DC10s inspected and in the air again.

Passengers flying to the West Coast on Northwest Orient flights from Dulles were inconvenienced most by the DC10 groundings here. About 165 of them spent Tuesday night in airport hotels before getting flights out yesterday morning.

"We were force to try to find rooms wherever we could get them in the local Holiday Inn and the Marriott and wherever-else rooms could be found," said Charles Miller, district manager for Northwest Orient's transportation services.

Another 140 Northwest Orient passengers bound for Boston spent several hours at Dulles before boarding a scheduled Trans World Airlines flight to that city Tuesday night, Miller said.

Northwest Orient, American and United airlines, the only carriers at Dulles affected by the DC10 groundings, expected to finish their fleet inspections by today, according to spokesman for those companies.

at Baltimore-Washington, where only United and World Airways fly DC10 jets, the affects of the groundings were "minimal." A spokesman there said only three out of about 300 daily arrivals and departures unvolve the controversial aircraft, and these were easily handled.

National Airport has no DC10s using its facility.

World Airways spokesman Robert Kipper said the air carrier's mechanics completed maintenance checks on all six of its DC10s in time to resume schedules operations yesterday morning.

"There was less impact by the groundings in the Washington area than at, say, O'Hare (in Chicago) where they use many, many more wide-bodied planes," said Paul Moore, a BWI spokesman.

Also, Moore noted, it is much easier to make alternate travel arrangements to Chicago - served by most major airlines - than to a city such as New Orleans, with fewer air carriers.

At Dulles, only 10 of about 130 daily take-offs and landings involve DC10 aircraft. Most of these are cross-country flights for which air-lines like to use the bigger, more comfortable jets.

The maintenance checks on the DC10s were performed by mechanics employed by the affected airlines. The inspections follow specific instructions from the Federal Aviation Administration and take about four to five hours to complete.

Northwest Orient reported finishing safety inspections on eight of its 22 DC10 jets by yesterday morning and predicted it will have the planes in operation by today. American Airlines officials were uncertain yesterday how many of their planes were still affected by the grounding order still reported its Dulles routes are back in service.

United Airlines completed safety inspections on 20 of its 37 DC10s by yesterday afternoon but decided not to put any of the planes in the air until the full fleet is checked, according to a spokesman.

"We really have had no problems with rescheduling passengers," said another United representative, Rhoda Allen, who added that the recently concluded strike by the airline's mechanics left many of the carrier's flights only half booked.

The most embarrassing passenger story of all at Dulles yesterday was the one told by Alex Lindholm, a Spokane, Wash., public relations firm representative. His flight Tuesday night to Seattle to close a business deal was canceled, and he overslept and missed his morning flight out yesterday.

"I almost cried when I woke up this morning," said Lindholm, whose room at the Holiday Inn Tuesday night was paid by Northwest Orient.

As he frantically stalked airline counters yesterday, Lindholm said he was keeping his room at the airport hotel even though Northwest refused to pick up the tab for the extra day.

"I may need the phone to look for another job," he said. CAPTION: Picture, Would be air travelers pack the American Airlines terminal at Los Angeles International Airport after the grounding by the FAA of all domestic DC10s. UPI