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Passengers welcome calm of a Saturday at the airport

February 15, 1997

Instead of scrounging for empty airplane seats or simply canceling their trips, American Airlines passengers Saturday moved through airports relieved that a crippling pilots strike had been averted.

``I feel great,″ said Shirly Merriwether of Manchester, England, at Miami International Airport. ``I was just prepared to come and wait till they got another airplane.″

Domestic trips and foreign flights leaving the United States should proceed normally, the airline said. Some flights originating overseas could be delayed because planes had been pulled back to London and San Juan ahead of the strike deadline.

The airline said it would offer discounts of up to 50 percent on some fares and double frequent flier miles on its flights to win back customers.

Numerous travelers said they were prepared for the worst. Many were bleary-eyed after keeping track of the developments that stretched past midnight on the East Coast.

``Of course I didn’t sleep last night, not until after 1 a.m. when we heard the news,″ said Hsao-Peng Huang, a tourist from Taipei, Taiwan, at Boston’s Logan airport. ``Now we’re very happy.″

Some passengers had backup reservations on other airlines.

John Fowler, who was traveling with his three sons from New York to Vail, Colo., for a ski holiday, and George Simkowski, flying from Chicago to Los Angeles on business, both had booked also on United Airlines.

``It was going to be a big inconvenience if we had to go the other way,″ Fowler said at LaGuardia Airport in New York. ``But it was going to be a manageable inconvenience.″

``I set my alarm for 11 (Central time) last night and heard that the president had put the airline back in business,″ Simkowski said at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport. ``I figured he had to do it.″

Relief was widespread from coast to coast, particularly among leisure travelers who generally book weeks in advance to take advantage of the cheapest tickets.

``For the last week I’ve been on pins and needles,″ Martha Drake of Syracuse, N.Y., said at LaGuardia. A product manager for a software company, she was going skiing in Utah with family members.

Despite the president’s intervention, however, some travelers suffered.

The Camp family _ Gloria, Tony and their son, Tony Jr. _ watched their three-day vacation slip away as they waited in line at the American ticket counter at San Juan’s airport to try to book seats to St. Thomas.

Their American flight from Baltimore arrived late Friday, so they missed their cruise ship connection. They were trying to catch up with Royal Caribbean’s Nordic Empress in St. Thomas, but since they were bumped from four flights on Saturday, they’ll return home Monday.

``I’m really disappointed, because I don’t get to get on the ship,″ said 15-year-old Tony Jr.

Many of American’s 90,000 employees who would have been on unpaid leave if the pilot strike had shut down the airline also were happy. Nevertheless, the dispute between the pilots and the company still lingers and there’s still the possibility of a strike.

``I was looking for another job. Now I am a little worried, but not much,″ said Marcy Miramontes, a passenger service representative for American at Miami International.

American officials said fewer than 100 flights worldwide were affected by the strike that had threatened to spoil a holiday weekend for more than 40,000 travelers. The Department of Transportation estimated a strike would have cost the U.S. economy up to $200 million daily.

Clinton named a three-member emergency board to propose a settlement in 30 days. The union and the airline then have 30 days to reach an agreement, but Congress could impose a settlement.

The president’s decision was welcomed by airline executives, but union officials were disappointed that their strongest weapon in the talks _ a strike _ had been foiled.

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