No-fright flight

Flying isn’t so bad, agrees 9-year-old Jacob Fernane, except for the long waits at airports. He’s been working on Pokémon, the Crystal version. And he’s had plenty of time to play. The Fernane family had been hanging out at Reno-Tahoe International Airport for 2 1/2 hours Tuesday, said Jacob’s dad, Patrick Fernane. He’s the regional manager for Grand Pacific Resorts. The Fernanes recently made a business visit to one of the resorts managed by Fernane’s company.

Flying back home turned out to be, well, inconvenient.

“It’s just a long wait,” Fernane said. “You have to get here early. Drop off the car. Wait for a shuttle. Normally, you can cut it pretty close.”

But what was normal—cruising into the airport barely an hour before your flight and expecting a smooth check-in—is now a thing of the past.

“I think [new security measures] will last forever,” Fernane said. “I think our lives have changed.”

The most obvious change at the airport these days is the empty hulk of a parking garage. The entrance to the garage is barricaded off, and vehicles are funneled into the long-term parking lot. The lot was crammed with cars Tuesday. I can only imagine what it’ll be like on the weekend.

You can’t park across the street at the Airport Plaza Hotel. A friendly sign warns, “Parking by permit only.” And, by the way, “Reno Air permits not valid.”

A big electronic sign greets airport visitors with a flashing “Unattended vehicles will be towed.” Four police cars are parked right in front of the airport building. The curbside check-in units are empty and unattended, artifacts of a trusting past.

Inside, sedate travelers line up to check in for their flights. The America West and United Airlines counters are decorated with enormous flags, smaller flags and yellow ribbons. Southwest sports a denser collection of smaller flags. Like the rest of the nation, flags are popping up everywhere at the airport. Old Glory erupts from orange parking cones and suitcases and taxis. Flags sprout up amongst the pink and purple petunias in large planters.

Security is intense. Workers from Southwest and Skycap check each passenger’s itinerary, ticket and identification before allowing each person to go through the metal detector before proceeding to the gate. Only passengers can go to the gate. Police officers stand stationed at this checkpoint around the clock, working in eight-hour shifts. Drinking the occasional Starbucks coffee. Chatting with the occasional interesting traveler.

A mom recently dropped off her 18-year-old son, fresh out of the U.S. Army’s boot camp, observed Officer Paul Adamson of the Reno Police Department. She was a bit upset.

“He was on his way to Washington, D.C.,” Adamson said. “We tried to reassure her that he’s just going to work. It’s a job.”

People seem to appreciate the added security nationwide. And Adamson didn’t seem to mind spending his shift watching over the friendly fliers at the Reno-Tahoe International Airport.

"This has been a very successful assignment," he said, dead serious at first. Then he smiled. "There hasn’t been one terrorist attack on the Reno Airport."