Rosanna Eso had planned to be aboard a plane en route to Nigeria yesterday morning. Instead, the bespectacled African woman was stuck in Washington's Greyhound bus depot in a sea of suitcases as she waited to buy a ticket to New York City.
By the time she boarded the bus, Eso had wired a cable to her family in Africa. "En route," it said. "Date and time of arrival unknown."
Thousands of area travelers repeated that message in various forms yesterday as they tried to cope with a strike by federal air traffic controllers that left luggage-lugging passengers stranded at airports and formed the longest lines in years at train and bus depots.
Most travelers were deeply frustrated and even those who felt sympathy for the controllers were upset because their plans had been disrupted. "I hate them [air traffic controllers]," Edna Robinson said while waiting for a train at Union Station, where lines at Amtrat ticket counters yesterday rarely dropped below 30 passengers. "I sympathize with them, but I hate them, too."
Washington's busiest airport, National, reported a 50 percent reduction in total flights (scheduled airlines and general aviation) by mid-afternoon. Baltimore Washington International reported about a 32 percent reduction, but at Dulles Airport, spokesman Keith Merlin said there had been only minimal reductions.
Dulles was tentatively chosen late yesterday by Boy Scout officials as a possible departure point for some 6,500 scouts and leaders attending a National Jamboree at Fort A.P. Hill, Va. A spokesman for the scouts said the White House and the Defense Department have agreed to make getting the scouts home a priority and may use military aircraft for the scouts if necessary.
While flights were reduced at National, the terminal was orderly. At one point, television crews and reporters scrambling to inerview passengers made up the only crowds.
"It's quiet all right," said Joyce Sachs of Bethesda, who was waiting for her daughter to arrive from New York. "I had no trouble getting parking here this morning, and when that happens, you know it's quiet."
Julian Winston, who was en route to a church convention in St. Louis, was anything but quiet. "I'm sick of all the hullabaloo" over demands for higher wages because of stress, said Winston, who told reporters he is a Baptist deacon. "It may be a hard job, but a man can get high blood pressure sweeping crumbs off the floor if that's his nature."
Problems that are routine to air travel added to the difficulties.
TWA's computers at BWI went kaput for a whale, according to clerk Henry McCloud.
Elsewhere at BWI, Brenda Taylor of Indianapolis searched for her luggage. "I want to be in New York, but I'm in Baltimore and my luggage -- they forgot to put it on the plane and it's still in Indianapolis." l
Taylor was one of 46 members of a Broadway Theater Tour group from Indiana University that is trying to get to New York City before their tickets to several Broadway plays expire.
Michael McCarthy, an Army private on leave from Frankfurt, Germany, who was also stranded at BWI, said he had to be back on base before midnight Thursday or he'd be reported AWOL. "The same thing happened to a friend six months ago," McCarthy said, "and he got into trouble. He lost pay and a rank was taken away from him. That hurts. . . . I can't afford that."
While many passengers were angry about the strike, some, like Lorna Mistele, a Los Angeles composer in Washington for a music convention, said she was looking forward to her three-day bus trip even though her flight on TWA would have taken only a few hours.
"I got my 35mm camera loaded and ready," said Mistele, who was humming a song she had written recently for other stranded ticket buyers at the Greyhound depot. "I haven't been on a bus in years and I'm going to enjoy seeing this country and meeting new people."
Greyhound officials added extra bus service to New York City and Philadephia, and Trailways had five ticket sellers yesterday rather that the usual three to accomodate passengers who arrived with airline tickets still in their hands, just in case, a strike had been averted.
"This is crazy," said Chlin McNeill, a London native who has been traveling by bus across the northwest United States for five weeks. "When I left London, I had to wait 18 hours because British airports' were on strike. Not again."
At Union Station, Amtrak officials waived the normal $3 penalty assessed passengers who buy tickets from conductors after boarding.
"It's imperative that I get home today," said Roger Blackwell, who had planned on a 1 1/2 hour flight home to Boston rather that nine hours on a train, which, he said, he hadn't ridden for five years. "I feel that the federal employes are holding the country hostage."
Amtrak officials had prepared for a surge of customers. Two additional cars were added to the New York-bound Metroliners and additional food and liquor were taken onboard.
Despite the problems, at least one Washington-area resident, Bob Dickerman, a foreign service officer who lives in Arlington, described yesterday as "a very special day."
"It was simply a unique experience to have a day without every newscast and every family conversation broken into by the window-rattling roar of planes overhead," said Dickerman, who lives in the National Airport flight path. "My whole family is pleased. In fact, we had lunch out on the balcony to celebrate . . . we hope the strike will continue."