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AMERICAN MORNING

Transit Strike Over; What's Awaiting You on Airports and Roads?

Aired December 23, 2005 - 07:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Soledad O'Brien. Subways and buses are rolling again here in New York. The transit strike is over. But it's maybe not quite done with. We've got a live report just ahead.
RICK SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Rick Sanchez in for Miles O'Brien. Travel is the word of the day for many of you. What is awaiting you on the airports and the roads as well? We are going to be taking a look at that for you.

O'BRIEN: And take a look at this videotape. These are incredible pictures from Hurricane Katrina. An insider's look what it was like to see that water rise and fast is ahead on this AMERICAN MORNING.

Good morning. Welcome, everybody. Good news for New Yorkers this morning as we finally are talking about a commute and sort of happy about it. Usually we're grumbling. But in the wake of the transit strike, buses and the subways are rolling, and that is very, very good news.

SANCHEZ: And a lot of us are going to be heading to the airports today.

O'BRIEN: And you're going to be able to get there.

SANCHEZ: I hope so.

O'BRIEN: Of course since it is a big travel today. LaGuardia Airport, let's show a shot there. You see there. Really long lines at the ticket counters. No surprise. I hate to tell you this, Rick, but that's what you're going to be experiencing. Long lines outside as well. And then if you see, look at Chicago. That's the scene at the Amtrak station in Chicago; 63.5 million people are expected to travel this year between Christmas and New Year's. Many of them by car. Take a look at Washington D.C. I think that's the capital expressway, I believe. Things are moving nicely. Those are probably just commuters at this point. And Atlanta as well.

SANCHEZ: That's Hartsfield Airport. Spent a lot of time there.

O'BRIEN: Yes, and it doesn't look like things are too backed up at this point. Well, we're going to get into what the travel is going to look like right now. The good news, of course, in New York the transit strike is over. Total nightmare, of course. It's back to the old rush hour blues, although I think people are just joyful this morning.

Let's check in with CNN's Chris Huntington. He's at Penn Station.

Hey, Chris. Good morning.

CHRIS HUNTINGTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Soledad.

It is getting back to normal which, of course, here in New York City means traffic jams and bruised feelings sometimes. We just had a little scuffle here on the street, an odd occurrence.

But the fact is the strike for now is over, and that is good news for millions of New York commuters and folks from out of town who wanted to come in and shop. We caught up with this woman right here.

Nazirah Cont (ph) from Brooklyn has made it in this morning.

Nazirah, how long did it take you to get in this morning? You took the subway, right?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I took the subway this morning, and it take me only 45 minutes to reach 34th Street, (INAUDIBLE) station, and it was wonderful to reach only after 45 minutes.

HUNTINGTON: How long did it take you to get into work during the strike?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: During the strike, it was like two hours. I have to wake up early in the morning like 4:00 a.m. in the morning, and I walk and I took the cab, and it was like two hours to reach in the city, 34th Street, during the strike.

HUNTINGTON: Did you ever think you'd be so thrilled about a 45- minute commute?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Forty-five minutes come here is wonderful, because you know, saving me time, but during the strike, it was like a terrible thing to reaching the city.

HUNTINGTON: Yes, and expensive, taxis and the whole thing.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, taxi it was too expensive. And also we had to walk so far from -- all the way from Brooklyn and here. And it's too cold now, and it was almost like freezing, so now it's wonderful, we get back MTA to come here.

HUNTINGTON: Nazirah, thank you very much. Have a good day at work at work.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You're welcome. Have a good day. Bye.

HUNTINGTON: OK, just one intrepid New Yorker relieved to be back to a normal commute, a 45-minute commute. So, Soledad, things getting back to normal. O'BRIEN: I bet there was a time when she was complaining about that 45-minute commute, and then she did the four-hour commute, and realized 45 minutes, not so bad.

Chris Huntington for us this morning. Thanks, Chris -- Rick.

SANCHEZ: Back out to our other big story today, and that's the crowds that are gathering at airports all over the country, including LaGuardia. AMERICAN MORNING's Alina Cho is there.

Alina, that is such a wonderful, modern airport with such great restaurants, too, right?

ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes.

SANCHEZ: I'm being facetious.

CHO: We had some great coffee just about an hour ago actually, Rick.

Let me get to the news, shall I? You know, pretty busy here at LaGuardia today. And I can tell you that the traffic coming into the airport was horrendous.

Now, that said, here at LaGuardia, no major delays here, or at JFK or Newark, for that matter. Those are the two other major airports in the New York area. The weather I'm told also is not posing a problem throughout the country. So that is another bit of good news.

Now remember, just yesterday, that the Transportation Security Administration rather instituted some new rules, and now travelers are able to take some small scissors, even some small tools in their carry-on baggage. They will also have to undergo some more random searches though, and some more thorough pat-downs.

One thing to keep in mind is that this longer Christmas holiday is allowing travelers to take a vacation versus visit family, because the kids are off from school, and it is longer than the Thanksgiving holiday, so people who are taking advantage of that are John and Jennifer Gourary. Their kids, Justin and Julie. Boy that's a lot of J's.

So, John, tell me, you were one of those smart travelers who came to the airport early. So tell me what was your morning like?

JOHN GOURARY, HOLIDAY TRAVELER: Our morning was fine. We got a car service a little bit earlier than normal because we were unsure what the lasting effects of the New York transit strike would be and whether the cars would be available or not, but everything went like clockwork, and here we are.

CHO: All right, so that's good. So you won't be missing your flight, which Jennifer is at?

JENNIFER GOURARY, HOLIDAY TRAVELER: 8:30, but there's a lot of people headed.

CHO: Tell me where you're headed?

JENNIFER GOURARY: We're headed to Las Vegas and then to Death Valley, California.

CHO: OK, and you're taking a vacation versus visit family. I hope you're not getting in trouble for that.

Jennifer, John Gourary, their children, thank you so much for joining us.

So, Rick, things are moving pretty smoothly here at LaGuardia Airport for now. We shall see what the day brings -- Rick.

SANCHEZ: All right, enjoy your day there at that big, beautiful modern complex -- Alina.

(WEATHER REPORT)

O'BRIEN: In Iraq, a troop-reduction plan in Iraq is now in the works. Deployments are being canceled for two Army brigades that are currently scheduled for combat tours. Thousands of troops who are in Iraq to beef up security for last week's elections, well, they're going to be coming home.

Aneesh Raman is in Baghdad for us this morning.

Hey, Aneesh, good morning.

ANEESH RAMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Soledad, good morning.

The secretary of defense speaking at a town hall meeting with U.S. troops earlier today gave the first sign that we could see a reduction in troops in Iraq below the baseline. Now all along, as you said, we assumed that the 160,000 or so troops that were here in the buildup to the elections would go down to the baseline of about 138,000 that we've seen throughout the year.

The secretary of defense said the president had approved adjustment of brigades. And here's how the numbers work. Two brigades will not be coming to Iraq. From 17, they go down to 15 brigades. One of those brigades will remain in the U.S., another in Kuwait. Each of those has roughly 3,500 troops, so we're talking about 7,000 to 10,000 troops not coming to Iraq early next year. That would means the number of troops here would go below that baseline that we've seen throughout this year of 138,000. It's a first sign we've seen really of a plan for withdraw -- for reduction, sorry, of troops. The secretary of defense, speaking to the U.S. troops here, said how that decision was made.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD RUMSFELD, SECY. OF DEFENSE: The president has spoken about progress on the political, the economic and the security fronts. On the basis of that progress, General John Abizaid, the CENTCOM commander, and General George Casey, the Iraq commander, have recommended the force level adjustments that we're initiating today.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RAMAN: Now, Soledad the secretary also said further reductions will be considered early next year as Iraq's government begins to take shape. But it's important to know huge variables still exist with that government in terms of what type of government it will be and how quickly it takes control of this country. So when we talk of further reductions, a lot of this is we will have to wait and see -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: And we will wait and see. Aneesh Raman for us in Baghdad. Thanks, Aneesh.

Parts of the Patriot Act will stay in effect, but extended only for five more weeks. The House voted on Thursday to extend the antiterrorism law till early February, and that's a change from the six-month extension that the Senate approved on Wednesday.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner, proposed the shortened timeline. He says more time is just only going to delay a decision that needs to be made right. The Senate passed the shortened extension before ending its session for the holidays, and President Bush is expected to approve the measure -- Rick.

SANCHEZ: We're going to have more on the mad rush to get home for the holidays. And in New York City, it's going to be a little easier now. We're going to be live with three travel experts to find out how to make your trip as painless as it can possibly be.

O'BRIEN: Also a court says Wal-Mart has got to pay up for not letting its workers take lunch. Lawyers say the retailer violated state law more than eight million times. We've got details on this story coming up next.

SANCHEZ: And then see for yourself what it was like to live through Hurricane Katrina. One man's dramatic home video, ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: So who do you think were the top newsmakers of 2005? all next week on AMERICAN MORNING, we're going to count down to 2006 by bringing you the top-five people who shaped the dramatic events of the past year. Top five in '05 all next week on AMERICAN MORNING. We begin at 6:00 a.m.

Wal-Mart is in big trouble for denying employees break time. Andy Serwer is "Minding Your Business" this morning. Good morning.

ANDY SERWER, "FORTUNE" MAGAZINE: Good morning, Soledad.

This is a big court case. A jury in Oakland, California has awarded Wal-Mart employees in the Golden State $172 million to 116,000 workers there. At issue, lunch breaks. The jury ruled that the company was unfair in denying these employees adequate lunch breaks. It's a big deal because the company faces dozens of so-called wage- and-hour class-action lawsuits across the country. Wal-Mart says it did not engage in any wrongdoing, and it will appeal. The question is, is this a company-wide practice? We've seen this question raised about Wal-Mart time and time again. Are they so concerned about cutting costs that they will cut corners when it comes to the law? And, you know, it's going to go on and on, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Yes, one would imagine.

You had a funny picture you were showing earlier today.

SERWER: And this is a picture of the two lawyers, the Wal-Mart lawyer and the plaintiff's lawyer. And I think you can kind of tell which is one which. That's right, the Wal-Mart lawyer is on the left. The victorious plaintiffs' lawyer is on the right. That's a cigar in his hand there. You can see that. And they don't look too happy with each other as you can imagine.

O'BRIEN: Yes, but one guy is happier than the other guy, that's for sure.

SERWER: Yes, that's right.

O'BRIEN: Andy, thanks -- Rick.

SERWER: You're welcome.

SANCHEZ: I have some amazing picture that we're going to be sharing with you now. One man who lived through the storm kept a diary of what was happening while Katrina was coming on. Watching it, you can feel the emotions of his own experience.

Susan Roesgen has this story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KENNARD JACKLEY, KATRINA SURVIVOR: Turn it on, press that button.

SUSAN ROESGEN, CNN GULF COAST CORRESPONDENT: Kennard Jackley says he only picks up his video camera when a storm is coming. And on August 28th, he knew a big one was on the way

JACKLEY: OK. This is it, insurance people. Let's see. Give you a close up of the living room.

ROESGEN: Jackley set out to make a video record of everything in this house so if the storm did some damage, he could make a claim for what was lost. He didn't know that this tape would be the last he would ever see of just about everything in the bottom half of his house.

JACKLEY: OK, never know there was a hurricane coming.

ROESGEN: This was the afternoon before the storm. But by daybreak the next morning, the wind was starting to howl.

JACKLEY: Mother Nature is angry, my friends.

ROESGEN: For 30 years, Kennard Jackley was a merchant marine, sailing through storms on oceans all over the world. And here he was in his own house watching a hurricane wrap itself around him. But he kept the camera rolling, and his commentary is a conversation between an old man and the sea.

JACKLEY: Enough out of you, there, whatever your name -- Katrina, or whatever the hell your name is.

ROESGEN: Eventually, Jackley realizes the situation is much worse than he thought. It isn't just the wind anymore, it's the water from the Lake swallowing his property.

JACKLEY: Uh-oh. There it goes. It's in. Here it comes. It's in the house. Broke the door lock. There it is. Oh man, I can't stop it now.

ROESGEN: Now, with no place but the attic to run to, watching his neighbor's homes start to float away around him, Jackley begins to question his decision to stay.

JACKLEY: When's this thing supposed to stop? Next time leave, stupid. I don't even think I saved my golf clubs.

ROESGEN: This is one of the few things that didn't float away. This is one of his wife's golf clubs. And to give you an idea of how high the water was here, I'm 5'8" and the golf club takes up to about 9 feet. But you have to remember that the water that was here came from the lake 200 yards away.

JACKLEY: Brave? I wouldn't go brave. Probably crazy

ROESGEN: Today, Kennard Jackley is starting to put his home back together. The whole bottom half of his house is bare. His wife's little beauty parlor, the washing room, and the sewing room, all gone. Upstairs, through the same balcony windows where he made his movie, life's starting to look more normal. Kennard's wife, Dookie (ph) is making gumbo for Christmas, and they plan to rebuild.

ROESGEN (on camera): Why stay here? Why put your house back together when you know the next one could come even higher?

JACKLEY: Why? This is -- well, I'm from Illinois, but this is the only house I've ever had, you know. And I'm not going to let a little rain hurt me.

ROESGEN: It was more than a little rain.

JACKLEY: We had history made, didn't we? Part of growing up, that's what I say.

Susan Roesgen, CNN, Slidell, Louisiana.

(END VIDEOTAPE) SANCHEZ: By the way, Mr. Jackley is selling DVDs of his video diary to try and help pay for some of the repairs he's got to make on his house. His homeowners insurance is coming up with $14,000, but he'll need at least four times that much. You can see the full two hours of this amazing home video at CNN.com through our new pipeline video service. Again, that's at CNN.com/pipeline.

O'BRIEN: Still to come this morning, 63 million people are traveling home for the holidays. We're going to tell you what you need to know before you hit the rail, or the road or the sky today.

Stay with us. You're watching AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: The holiday travel crunch is under way now, and whether you're going by plane, or by train or by automobile, we've got you covered this morning. Janet Libert of "Executive Travel Magazine" joins us from LaGuardia Airport this morning. Amtrak's Mark Magliari is in Chicago in the Amtrak trainyard next to Union Station. And AAA spokesman Mantell Williams is along the capital beltway in Washington D.C.

Good morning. Welcome to all of you.

We're going to begin with you Janet, if we can.

How is it looking this morning at LaGuardia? I can see a lot going on behind you.

JANET LIBERT, "EXECUTIVE TRAVEL" MAGAZINE: You know, if you like the hustle and bustle of the holiday, airports are the place for you today. About 35 million people will fly over the two-week holiday according to the Air Transport Association, and this is about the same number as last year. But what's different this year is yesterday, the TSA implemented new changes as you go through security. Where you are now allowed to carry small scissors and small tools, but be subject on to more random searches, so that's different this year than last year.

O'BRIEN: Are you seeing an impact of that rule? Is it slowing things down, or is it moving things along a little bit faster?

LIBERT: You know, 25 percent of what was taken when you went through security in the past were those small scissors and those small tools. So the TSA expects that the lines will go more smoothly this year, and that's actually what we're seeing. Any lines that you're seeing here -- and right now, it's about 25 minutes to an hour at LaGuardia, is due to the increases in the number of people that are traveling. There are probably today at LaGuardia will be an extra 25 to 30 percent more people.

O'BRIEN: You know, I can see behind you people with big old bags, because you know they got their Christmas presents inside those bags. And every year, you've got the person who carries the big tin full of something, and they wrap it in some kind of aluminum wrapping paper, and you're like, why? What's wrong with these people? LIBERT: You know, that is a very good point. The TSA strongly recommends not wrapping any of your gifts, whether you're checking them, or whether you're carrying them on, because they're subject to search, and they will unwrap them, and all of your good work is gone.

O'BRIEN: Complete waste of time. Give me one quick tip what you can do right now if you're traveling, like Rick Sanchez is in a bit. What's the best way to speed your way through the airport?

LIBERT: You know, my very number-one tip, and we felt it when we came in this morning, is leave early. It's that much more crowded. One second tip if you can actually print out your boarding pass at home, go to your airline's Web site. You will save yourself a very long line.

O'BRIEN: All right, Janet, thanks a lot. Let's get right to Mark Magliari. As we mentioned, he's near Union Station in Chicago.

Hey, Marc. Good morning.

Amtrak, obviously, a good way to get out of town. Is it sold out, or are there still seats available?

MARC MAGLIARI, AMTRAK: Here in the Chicago area, Soledad, we have more than a dozen trains that are sold out, but if people are patient and flexible, we'll get them where they need to go, as long as they take a little extra time getting down here, and bring your Christmas presents, too. You can bring your presents on Amtrak.

O'BRIEN: Look at that, a little dig at the folks over at LaGuardia, and maybe a little at the TSA, too. The security could slow things down, though. So give me some tips about how you can simplify the process a little bit.

MAGLIARI: Well, do bring the bags that are within our limits. If you're traveling on one of our trains like the one behind me, heading off to Michigan later this morning, there's a two-bag carry-on limit, plus a personal item. So you can put a big bag of Christmas presents on and bring them on the train.

You can also take a little extra time to get to and from the stations. In a lot of the markets, here in Chicago and the West Coast and the East Coast, there are places you can board the trains in the suburbs without having to come all the way down to the city and hop aboard the train then. We're right here in the railyard, where all the real work gets done. I'm usually sitting in an office and talking on the phone. This is where the work goes on.

O'BRIEN: Yes, so if you can avoid that and sort of be on the fringes, you could have a pretty good way of avoiding the crowds. Any last-minute tip for anybody you want to give me?

MAGLIARI: Go to the Web site, check the status of your train. If you have not made your reservation yet, go to the Web site and buy a ticket at amtrak.com and buy a ticket. And as long as you have some flexibility and the time and train you choose, we'll get you there. O'BRIEN: All right, well, thanks, Mark. Appreciate it.

Also a big thank you to Janet Libert as well.

Looks like we're having some audio difficulties with Mantell Williams. We're going to try and check in with him in just a little bit as well.

Let's take you right back to Rick.

SANCHEZ: All right, thanks a lot Soledad.

By the way, I got my ticket right here, got it online.

Still to come, a big announcement that might be the first step toward reducing troop levels in Iraq. Our military analyst Spider Marks puts it all into perspective for us.

Stay with us. You're watching AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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