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Shippers look for alternatives to airlines
By Andrew Haeg , Minnesota Public Radio
September 13, 2001
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Airlines resumed limited service Thursday after the first nationwide shutdown in history. Businesses that rely on air freight have been scrambling to find alternative ways to ship product, or have just been waiting until service returns to normal.
The most obvious initial sign of a changed world for passengers at Minneapolis-St. Paul airport was much tighter security.
(MPR Photo/Mark Zdechlik)

COASTAL SEAFOODS, based in Minneapolis, usually gets its goods by air from around the world. With the halt to all flights stretching into into the third day, general manager Tim Lauer says selection is thinning. "We'll have fish but we certainly won't have the full array or variety of fish. Where normally we might have 50, 60 varieties of fish on a Friday or Saturday. Probably now it will be 10 to 20," he says.

Twin Cities-based catalog retailer Fingerhut says it simply won't be able to deliver some products until air service returns to normal. Spokesman Ben Sokal couldn't estimate the impact of the flight ban, but says it's not that big a deal, under the circumstances. "Delivery of products are expected to be delayed for a few days. We feel this is a small inconvenience compared to the impact this tragedy has had on others," Sokal said.

With no planes in the skies, many businesses are turning to trucks. Transport America, an Eagan-based trucking firm, says demand has risen. Vice President of Operations Jeff Vandercook says Federal Express, Airborne Express and 3M are among the firms that have hired the company's trucks to deliver packages.

But Vandercook says this is a busy time of the year for truckers, and he's done what he can to accommodate the rush of new business.

"If we had drivers that were available and at the right locations and I didn't have other commitments I made to other shippers, I'm guessing that I could fill every driver I wanted to with freight that has typically has gone in air and is not right now going by air," he said.

According to the Minnesota Trucking Association, air freight accounts for less than one percent of all freight handled annually. Association President John Hausladen says that makes it easier for the trucking industry to meet the additional demand.

George Wozniak, president of Hobbit Travel talks with MPR's Lorna Benson about the public's reaction to flying. Listen to his comments.
"It's really a drop in the bucket in terms of being able to pick up the capacity to move this," he says. "Individual carriers are scrambling, but the system has plenty of capacity to meet the needs," Hausladen says.

UPS in Minneapolis says it's shipping many of its domestic packages by truck. A spokesman says packages bound for foreign destinations, will have to wait until the skies are open for business again.

Meanwhile, business travel has all but ceased, but business continues. As a result many companies are looking for alternative means like teleconferencing to help their far-flung operations come together.

A local leader in teleconferencing equipment and services is Acoustic Communications, based in Plymouth. Company General Manager Richard Remley says he expects demand for his company's equipment to rise in the coming days and weeks. But he says he's watched as some gas stations exploited panic for profit, and told staffers preparing a press release to avoid any suggestion that the company was doing the same.

"If there's one word in this press release, and if there's one word that anyone speaks from this company in the wrong manner, that makes us appear like we want to take advantage of this atrocity. Then I don't want to participate. We strongly believe that we could help if someone needs. For business that don't want to fly, that's a different matter. We are here, we do expect heightened interest in this technology, and we're here for them as well," Remley said Thursday.

Even when airline service resumes, some say business travelers shaken by the hijackings will be slow to book flights. Airlines say it won't be until at least early next week before service returns to anywhere close to normal.