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Undaunted, air travelers refuse to cancel



Published: Wed, September 19, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



Time, money and convenience will be elements of a changed travel industry, agents say.

By ROGER G. SMITH

VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER

YOUNGSTOWN -- Joyce Sutton surprised herself that she still wanted to take a planned trip to Chicago last Friday.

"After all this, I'm ready for a vacation," she said.

Charles C. Petzinger fully intended on flying to Winston-Salem, N.C., last weekend to watch his alma mater, Wake Forest University, play Northern Illinois University until most collage football games were postponed.

"I refuse to live in fear," he said.

Molly Prosser has plans to fly into Miami later this month to reach her cruise ship. She doesn't expect to change her schedule.

"As long as everything remains calm, I'm looking forward to that," she said.

Travel agents are travelers, too, and echo what their customers were saying: Put me on the plane.

Sutton, who operates Sutton Tours & amp; Travel Service in Boardman, didn't have any cancellations for the coming weeks in the days after the terrorist attacks.

Customers are more worried about losing money spent on tickets that went unused last week than their plane becoming a weapon of mass destruction, she said.

Air travelers didn't shy away, either, during the Persian Gulf War or after the 1985 hijacking and 17-day hostage ordeal of TWA Flight 847, said Sutton, who has been in the business more than 30 years.

"People will always get on a plane. People are not going to stay home," she said.

Car travel has slowed more because of high gas prices than flying has because of terrorism, said Prosser, district office manager of the AAA office in Boardman.

Her office had a couple future cancellations, but nothing substantial.

"They're just hanging in to see how it's going to go," Prosser said. "People are pretty tough."

Surprised: Travel agents are a bit surprised more Mahoning Valley travelers aren't more skittish, but not that most people are willing to stick with planes.

"Most Americans want to defy the terrorists," said Julie Costas, marketing director at Carlson Wagonlit Travel in Youngstown. "It's an American attitude."

She is keeping her air travel plans for this week, too.

That's not to say everybody remains on board.

A retired couple who regularly flies to Florida has decided that driving isn't such a bad thing, said Carol Woodring, manager at Executive Tour and Travel in Boardman.

Nonetheless, Renee Derr, a co-owner of Four Star Travel in Cortland, booked a February Disney trip for a customer the day after the attacks.

"They're nervous, but they're not saying they don't want to go," she said.

Future corporate travel hasn't been curtailed, either, she said. Any cancellations for the next few weeks have been because conventions are being dropped, not because workers won't get on planes.

"Most people are thinking this is the safest time to fly," Derr said. "We can't stop our lives."

She isn't. Her November flight is still on schedule.

A necessity: Air travel remains a necessity in a spread-out world, despite last week's events, said Petzinger, president of Pan Atlas Travel Service in Youngstown and All Tours & amp; Travel Service in Warren.

Families are scattered across the country. Kids need to come home from college. Honolulu, the Rockies and Cancun, Mexico, aren't any less attractive, but they are tough to reach without a plane.

"Travel has become almost a right," Petzinger said. "People refuse to give up that right."

Changes: All the agents agree that the time, money and convenience of air travel will be altered significantly:

UPeople will need the patience of Job to endure check-in and security procedures that now will now take two or three hours instead of one.

U"E-tickets" bought over the Internet now will have to be exchanged at the counter for a regular ticket.

UCarry-on baggage is in jeopardy.

UArmed air marshals may be sitting next to you.

USecurity charges of $20 or $30 a ticket aren't far off to pay for better-trained airport officers.

There is nothing wrong with any of it, Sutton said. She doesn't think travelers ultimately will mind, either, because it's all an investment in safety.

Hassles: People already have demonstrated willingness to put up with air travel hassles.

One example is safety. Even before, a ticket bought less than a week in advance got you pulled out of line and questioned in Pittsburgh, Sutton said, but people still did it.

Another example is cost. Fuel surcharges didn't deter air travelers when gas prices were spiraling.

"If you can't afford it, take a bus," Sutton said. "There's always Hertz or Avis."

Air travelers may be a hardy bunch, but even Sutton was incredulous when she saw people on TV demanding service a day after the attacks, when the system was shut down nationwide.

"It's incredible," she said. "We should all just be so thankful to God."

rgsmith@vindy.com




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