The war is over, yet it's still possible -- for the time being -- to find almost unbelievable bargains for travel abroad.
There are three reasons:
* If previous Mideast conflicts are any illustration, the threat of terrorism remains. As a result, tourism is down.
* The economy still is in a recession. In such times, people are less likely to plan foreign holidays. Responding to supply-and-demand pressures, airlines and tour packagers are reducing prices. They do not want travelers to fall out of the habit of using their services.
* This is the slow season when travel prices normally are lowest. Add that airlines raised fares when fuel prices went up last autumn; now they want to demonstrate that prices have come back down.
British Airways is offering $249 round-trip tickets from the East Coast to London. There are, of course, many restrictions. But the idea of flying across the Atlantic for less than the cost of many domestic flights is mind-boggling. American international carriers are offering similar low rates.
No travel company is saying that the threats of terrorism are not worth considering. Yet, flying, even to Europe, remains a fairly safe undertaking -- much safer than it was, say, 20 years ago. Even were there to be a campaign of terror, the sheer number of flights that take place would make flying statistically safe. The most dangerous part of air travel is your drive to the airport.
Before rejecting an international flight out of hand, you may want to consider the facts, look at the risks and make a decision.
"This is usually the most economical time of the year to travel to Europe," says Laura DeMaio of Boston-based Thomas Cook Travel.
Some domestic routes also are available at substantial discounts. There are low prices as well for package deals covering air fare, accommodations and perhaps admission to points of interest overseas. European hotels are suffering substantial vacancies. Theaters and museums are devoid of the usual lines. The sights can be seen now more conveniently than RTC at any other time in memory and at lower prices.
While the sightseeing is more convenient, the same cannot be said for the time you spend at the airport. Stringent new security measures -- called Level IV by the Federal Aviation Administration, which has imposed such a high level for the first time -- make things difficult for everyone, though with good reason. The State Department has recommended that increased security remain in effect until the threat of terrorism is diminished, if in fact that ever happens.
According to the FAA:
* Forget about dropping your bags off at the curb. You no longer can drive to the curb, and there's no one there to check luggage. You must hand it in yourself. Extra care is being taken to see that there is no unescorted luggage aboard a plane.
* If you leave baggage unattended, you can count on it being seized and possibly destroyed by security workers. The reason: It only takes a few seconds for a bad guy to slip a bomb into your bags.
* Expect to spend more time at the X-ray machine. The content of carry-on baggage is being inspected more closely than ever. If you carry electronic devices, such as a tape player or portable computer, expect additional delays. (The Lockerbie bomb was hidden in a tape player.)
* Don't expect to be kept company by a friend who drives you to the airport. Unticketed persons are no longer being allowed through the security screening.
* Carry a photo identification. The FAA wants to be sure you are the person you claim to be.