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Additional security in place at boro airports

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Amid warnings from President George Bush that the Iraq war could be an extended conflict, airline passengers made their way through tightened security to catch their flights at the two Queens airports this week.

Despite a steady flow of passengers through Kennedy and LaGuardia airports, the Air Transport Association is predicting a 15 percent decline in traffic on U.S. airlines because of the war.

Another industry trade group, the International Air Transport Association, has forecast a 15 to 20 percent drop in international passenger travel during the war due to concerns about flying, according to its Web site.

Security at Kennedy and LaGuardia airports had already been strengthened after the Sept. 11 attacks, but the start of the war in Iraq prompted the return of National Guardsmen, who had been assigned to the terminals but removed by the end of last year, a spokesman for the Port Authority said.

The guardsmen, armed with rifles, joined a security net at both airports that includes bomb detection — both with bomb-sniffing dogs and explosive-screening machines — and random vehicle, bag and identification checks, the spokesman said.

“I think security’s even better now,” said Joan Finneran, a Boston woman flying from LaGuardia Airport to Baltimore. “I’m not nervous about flying. I noticed a gentleman that looked like he was a national guard — he just smiled and said hello.”

The airports have also maintained the 300-foot parking limit, prohibiting parking within that distance of any terminal, said a PA spokesman. The Port Authority has set up Jersey barriers to close off about 900 spots at Kennedy and between 400 and 500 at LaGuardia, the spokesman said.

At LaGuardia Tuesday, passengers at Terminal 3 said they had not experienced longer security checks than usual.

“There was nothing unusual. No problems,” said Bob Unger, a sales manager from Concord, N.H. “I haven’t noticed anything heightened since the war. They actually don’t check your ID at the gate anymore, which is unusual.”

A security agent for the Transportation Security Administration said baggage checking procedures at LaGuardia had not changed since the start of the war.

“The baggage checks are always strict. It’s not any stricter now - it’s the same as it has always been,” said the agent, who lives in Woodside. “If anything, 9/11 and the war makes you more suspicious. You’re suspicious of everybody.”

Oswaldo Pinilla, a banker from Forest Hills, said the precautions can be nerve-rattling but worth the inconvenience.

“I can sense and see the awareness of the security more than before,” said Pinilla, who flew into JFK from Zurich this week. “There is definitely in the air a feeling of more security. There’s an uneasiness I must say, but it’s an uneasiness we have to accept under the circumstan­ces.”

Others, like White Plains resident Wolfgang Rapp, have simply become accustomed to the security.

“It’s the same situation, like a month ago or two months ago,” said Rapp at LaGuardia airport. “I’m not nervous about flying.”

Rapp’s steadfast attitude is reflected in the flights run by JetBlue out of its Kennedy Airport terminal, said Fiona Morrisson, spokeswoman for the airline. Passengers have not been canceling their travel plans because of the onset of the war, but many are wary of making future plans since the conflict may last longer than some had first thought.

“With the launch of the war we’ve seen some softening of advance bookings,” Morrisson said. “People aren’t thinking of booking a flight while the country’s at war but we’re not seeing much cancellation.”

And while flying during a war with Iraq may make some nervous, the start of military action helped one woman decide to return to her native Ireland, she said.

“I have no fear of flying,” said Ann, as she waited for her plane at Kennedy Airport. “I feel like I’m running away. There’s a few things going on, but maybe the war is just an excuse for me to leave.”

Reach reporter Courtney Dentch by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com, or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 138.

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