Countians Cancel Overseas Travel Because Of War

January 23, 1991|By Lorraine Mirabella | Lorraine Mirabella,Staff writer

Most days this time of year, the phones ring incessantly at Pasadena World Travel. Thoughts turn to spring and wanderlust, to escaping towarmer climates and exploring new places.

But as the war in the Persian Gulf heightens fears of terrorism, the hectic pace of agents has been silenced, and phones have stopped ringing.

"The last week has been totally dead," said Dorothy Mills, president of the Ritchie Highway travel agency. "They're not calling."

One corporate client, she says, has stopped the business flights of his employees.

Almost immediately after U.S. warplanes stormed into Iraq Wednesday night, countians canceled or put vacations on hold, Baltimore-Washington International Airport tightened security and airlines out of BWI -- some reporting sharp drops in demand -- suspended flights or waived cancellation penalties.

Businesses have cut back on trips, and tourist bookings, especially to the eastern Mediterranean and North Africa, have slumped.

No one saw the panic sooner than travel agents.

After war erupted, agents from offices throughoutthe county said, travelers almost immediately either canceled or postponed European or other international trips. Fears of recession already had led to declines in sales of big-ticket trips such as those toEurope.

"We've had quite a few cancellations today to Europe, people who were to leave within the next three weeks, even just to London," said Ruthie Dukkony, owner of Annapolis Travel Service. "Employers are a little reluctant to send people over at this time. It's wait and see."

Dukkony noted a brisk business, however, in booking cruises and trips to Orlando, the Caribbean and California.

Cindy Brown, owner of Best Connection in Eastport, rattled off the trips her clients have canceled.

"London, Greece, Italy, Germany. People are very hesitant to travel to Europe," she said. "You get some people whodon't want to fly at all."

Other agents, like Ray Miller of Accent Travel in Millersville, reported no cancellations -- not yet anyway.

"People are not saying they're not going. They're just putting it off," Miller said. "For European and international trips, people are just treading water."

Debi McCrobie, travel consultant for AAA World Travel Agency's Baltimore office that serves clients in Anne Arundel, has heard a few requests to revise travel plans. In one case, awoman replaced an hour-long flight to Boston with a seven-hour trainride.

Like the agents, airlines have seen sharp declines in consumer demand for international flights, often by as much as 30 percent.

TWA, one of BWI's three major international carriers, has slashedEuropean flights by half because of a dramatic drop in internationalbookings.

The airline also has cut BWI-to-London flights from three per week to one per week, TWA spokesman Jim Faulkner said. Last week, TWA canceled all flights to Cairo, Tel Aviv, Athens and Istanbul.

Like other airlines, TWA has waived cancellation penalties for tickets purchased on or before Jan. 14 for international departures through Jan. 31.

As of yesterday, no other BWI carriers had suspended flights.

"Starting in January, as we moved toward the Jan. 15 deadline, business started to diminish," said Bob Gibbons, spokesman forNorthwest Airlines. "But we're not to the point where we have to combine flights or suspend them."

Northwest Airlines has no plans to alter any flights -- all domestic -- out of BWI, Gibbons said.

Overall, for the airport's carriers, "international travel is definitelydown," said Carol Riley, spokeswoman for the Maryland Aviation Administration.

The airport tightened security last week. Officials prohibit anyone other than ticket-holding passengers from entering boarding-gate checkpoints. Airport officials will tow any unattended cars and remove any unattended luggage. No longer can passengers check bags at curbside or straight through to a final destination.

Though many travelers have canceled plans, others refuse to let world politics dictate where and when they travel.

McCrobie, the AAA agent, reported little change in bookings for business trips.

"When these guys have to travel, they gotta go," she said.

One phone call came to Pasadena World Travel from a woman wanting to fly to Eastern Europe. Depspite one agent's reminder of a State Department warning of the threat of terrorism against U.S. citizens abroad, the woman was determined to cross the Atlantic.

The prospect of terrorism on domestic flights apparently has yet to faze travelers, Dukkony said.

"If we all live in fear, it would be a mistake," she said. "People have not gotten to that point."

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