Some flying again with little hesitation, others don’t dare
A year after the 9-11 attacks, the skies are only a little less turbulent for area travelers.
More and more people are returning to air travel, which is safer but also more tedious due to increased security. Meanwhile, travelers face a new concern about the future of the airline industry, as bankruptcies grow.
Travel agents report that business has slowly come back since last September’s setback. But Americans tend to split into two distinct groups when it comes to their comfort level with flying, and traveling in general.
“The people that are flying are comfortable, the people that aren’t comfortable, we’re not hearing from. They’re just not doing it,” said Melissa English, owner of Crystal Travel in Carbondale.
Andy Crisconi, co-owner of KE Adventure Travel in Glenwood, sees the same trend in the adventure travel business.
“I think the people that go and are traveling, they’re pretty comfortable with the way things are right now. The people that are scared and nervous are just not going.”
Everyone’s different, he noted, and it’s important that people go where they are comfortable.
“There’s no reason to force it. Nothing’s going anywhere. The idea is to have fun.”
If you’re spending your whole trip worried about your safety, “what’s the point?” said Crisconi. “You might as well stay home.”
`Driving is a lot
For many people, it’s not a question of whether to travel, but where, and how.
Joe Mollica, a Glenwood Springs High School teacher who just returned to the classroom from summer vacation, took two trips to California during his break – both by car.
But he added, “It didn’t scare me to fly. I just didn’t fly.”
“I still think flying is so much safer,” Mollica said. “I think driving is a lot more dangerous than flying. You get out there on those California highways and it’s crazy. Right here in town people are in warp drive, they’re just driving too fast.”
He said he would have been open to air travel even right after the 9-11 attacks.
“It wouldn’t have bothered me. Security is pretty tight.”
Cindy Dobbin, owner of Springs Travel in Glenwood Springs, has seen many air travelers choose different destinations in the year after 9-11.
Trips to Europe and most international destinations are down, while travel to Mexico and Hawaii has increased. Mexico’s land connection to the United States apparently has something to do with it, she said.
“You don’t have to cross an ocean; you still feel a little safe,” she said.
Hawaii, meanwhile, benefits from the added security of being part of the United States.
Crisconi also sees Americans seeking safer travel destinations.
“Since (last) September the biggest change that we have seen in destinations is definitely a trend to stay away from south Asia, the Himalayan countries,” he said.
“Nepal has probably been the heaviest hit as far as the decrease in tourism,” he said, in part because of the massacre of the royal family. Those tourists who visit Nepal continue to have safe, enjoyable trips, Crisconi said. Nevertheless, he and others in his industry have witnessed an adventure tourism dropoff not only in Nepal but in nearby countries.
“We as Americans tend to see regions as the same. We’re not really differentiating between countries. There’s trouble in that area, we don’t go.”
Looking `closer to home’
Unlike what Dobbin has seen in the traditional tourism market, Crisconi has experienced an increase in people heading to Europe, which is seen as safer than places such as the Himalayas.
“They still want to go somewhere, but they choose closer to home,” he said.
The European Alps have proven popular, as have South American countries such as Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador.
Between 9-11 and the airlines’ recent financial uncertainty, Dobbin said some people are opting to stay out of planes. Some ask about Amtrak, although she said the rail service’s fares “aren’t a bargain either,” and its travel corridors are limited.
Dobbin is a more enthusiastic promoter of cruise vacations, which she said offer a good value.
“It’s a great way to travel, seeing the country without being in an airplane too much.”
She said she has seen a lot of interest in cruises to Alaska.
But she’s also seen some people choosing against traveling altogether.
One reason is economics, she said. Between 9-11 and the nation’s economic slowdown, and this summer’s fires and mudslides locally and elsewhere in Colorado, some local residents have been hit hard.
“Those workers bees don’t have the extra cash to go on vacation so it’s a ripple effect.”
For travel agents such as Dobbin and English, it’s the latest in a seemingly endless series of ripples. Their industry has been hard-hit in recent years by increasing competition from Internet booking alternatives, cuts by airlines in commissions, the economic downturn and 9-11, and now talk of United Airlines and other carriers declaring bankruptcy.
“I think 9-11 just blew it wide open. I don’t know, I think it gave the airlines a chance to whine even more,” said Dobbin.
Airlines have been in trouble in the past, but English said it’s unusual to have so many on the verge of bankruptcy all at once.
The threat has travelers asking questions about things such as the security of their frequent flier miles. Dobbin said she doesn’t have the answers.
All she and fellow agents can do is try to ride out the latest storm.
“You’ve got to meet it head on and do what you can and try to hang on, and sell smart,” she said.
And wonder what’s next for the beleaguered travel agent industry.
“You really hate to look around the corner,” she said.
The immediate question for agents is what kind of traveling people will be doing around the anniversary of the 9-11 attacks. English said that while air travel had been starting to get back to normal, some are worried about traveling this Sept. 11.
“They’re definitely thinking about it,” English said. “People are going to be emotional and looking back on that date.”
It’s only natural, and English finds herself doing the same. She even considered closing her office for the anniversary, out of respect for those who died. But she chose not to, after others told her that part of healing is moving on and not letting something like the attacks endlessly disrupt people’s lives.
Still, English hopes the nation properly remembers and memorializes the dead.
“I really think the country needs to do something in a combined effort and I don’t think anybody’s come up with that. I don’t think we should act like it’s just another day.
“I’m finding as it gets closer I’m just very emotional about it,” she said.
Crisconi looks back at the last year somewhat philosophically. One positive that has come from the attacks is a greater awareness by Americans of the larger world in which they live, he believes.
“I just feel that for so long it’s been us and the rest of the world. … We’ve got to pay attention to what’s going on now.”
While it’s been hard for Americans to take being targeted being the victims of terrorists, “This is the way that a lot of people around the world live every day of their lives,” he noted.
The price of security
The reality for Americans traveling abroad today is that they stand out with their U.S. passports and face the possibility of being a target.
Crisconi said those with doubts about traveling under such circumstances may find more comfort in traveling in organized groups.
Whether traveling alone or in a group, an American today faces the same increased security delays if their mode of transport is an airplane. English said she’s heard a little frustration over these delays.
“But I think the majority of people understand what’s going on and are willing to accommodate the inconvenience to feel a little safer in the airports,” she said.
English does little work with business travelers herself, but hears from other agents that businesses are traveling less these days and doing more of their business over the Internet, conference calls and other means instead.
“It’s just incredibly time consuming when you have to be at an airport two hours early,” she said.
But extensive security measures have been in place in other countries for a long time, she added.
“We were just behind the times.”
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