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Local observers see change in travel industry



Published: Mon, September 9, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



Area pilots are starting to see passengers' attitudes about flying getting back to normal.

By SHERRI L. SHAULIS

VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF

YOUNGSTOWN -- Tom Kubik has seen the effects the terrorist attacks one year ago had on his profession.

Kubik, of Poland, a US Airways employee for 25 years, has yet to see a change in his job description. He still works flight check, reviewing other pilots' performances.

Personally, however, he's witnessed fewer flights and fewer passengers. That's what irks him -- he sees it as a sign that the terrorists won.

"When people say they aren't flying ever again -- when they are staying home, when they are changing their lifestyles -- that is what they wanted," he said. "We are allowing them to change our way of life, and that is exactly what they had in mind."

His fellow pilots, Mark Fulks of Boardman and Rick Ruehs of Poland, have seen changes in their jobs. Originally, the pair worked as instructors on flight simulators and flew the company's MD-80s. Although those planes were scheduled to be retired at the end of this year, US Airways opted to phase them out almost immediately after Sept. 11, which threw several pilots into a tailspin; many were forced to retrain on other planes. Fulks and Ruehs were retrained to fly 737s.

Added to the downsizing of US Airways -- it went from a fleet of 400 aircraft to about 280 -- is the company's bankruptcy announcement Aug. 11.

Big changes in industry

Between the increases in security measures, the debate over pilots carrying firearms -- Kubik and Fulks are all for it, but Ruehs is torn on the matter -- and drastic changes in the number of people flying these days, the men have seen more with regard to their profession than they ever thought possible.

None is considering changing careers.

"It's such a highly trained position," Fulks said. "And it's not like there is the opportunity to jump to another carrier, or just start in with another company."

The status of the airline industry is a little uneasy at times, but it's just the nature of the beast at this time, the men said.

When it comes to what initially spurred the changes, none of the men see it happening again.

"Almost every person I have talked to has said if they were to see someone headed for that cockpit, they are going after them," Ruehs said.

Kubik said he sees many of the passengers' attitudes about flying getting back to normal. Those who do fly are not as anxious, and they understand that it's as safe to fly now as it was before Sept. 11.

Passenger's experience

Dottie Wilson said she feels her anxieties about flying easing up.

The Howland resident flew several times before the attacks to various points throughout the country, but has boarded a plane only once since the attacks. In early November, she flew from Pittsburgh to Florida via Newark.

"I don't feel as scared as I was, but at that time I was scared to death," she said.

She boarded in Pittsburgh with relative ease, she said, making it through security checks in minimal time.

Newark, however, was a different story altogether.

"I had a 90-minute layover and wanted to go outside to smoke," she said. When she asked an airport employee where she could exit, she was strongly advised not to do it. Getting back into the airport through security checks would take longer than her layover, she was told.

"I did it anyway, but they were right," she said. "By the time I got through the line to get checked again, I almost missed my flight."

Travel planners see decline

As airlines struggle with fewer passengers and therefore fewer flights, travel planners are noticing the decline.

Brian Newbacher, director of public affairs for the American Automobile Association office in Independence, said air travel is down 8 percent this year. But although travel planners expected a decrease this year, it's not as bad as first thought.

"We made our own financial projections expecting a decrease this year," he said. "But actually we've done a little better than the predictions."

Most people are opting to plan driving vacations, he said, noting that AAA's Trip-Tik driving direction packages are up.

The company has made an overall change in strategy, focusing more on domestic travel than international travel, Newbacher said. He said more people are opting to drive distances they previously flew if only to avoid long security lines and risks of flights being canceled or postponed because of a lack of passengers.

"People are seeking ways to avoid that 'hassle' factor," he said.

slshaulis@vindy.com




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