Travelers unfazed by warnings

Few cancellations

air terminals busy

December 23, 2003|By Meredith Cohn | Meredith Cohn,SUN STAFF

Travelers weren't deterred yesterday from airports and train stations or from getting places for the holidays despite heightened warnings from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Several airlines, many still in recovery from the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and economic downturn, said they were receiving few requests for cancellations or changes a day after the government raised the alert a notch to "orange," the second-highest level, from "yellow" on the five-color scale.

Although officials specified airlines as potential targets, some industry executives speculated that people had made travel plans far in advance to be with family and were less apt to cancel them than they might have been for other types of travel.

Airports, train stations and roadways are already experiencing heavy, but mostly smooth, traffic during one of the busiest travel weeks of the year.

"We've not been hearing from customers; they don't seem to be panicked," said Christine Turneabe-Connelly, a Southwest Airlines spokeswoman. "We've heard from more reporters. If we hear from customers, we'll work with them on a case-by-case basis."

In general, customers who do want to cancel a Southwest ticket can apply it toward another flight within one year. Other airlines charge a range of fees depending on the ticket.

AirTran Airways reported that travelers were not canceling. But spokesman Tad Hutcheson warned many were not leaving sufficient time for check-in and security lines, which were longer because of the heavy travel.

A spokesman for US Airways noted that the majority of travelers toward the end of the year are going to see family or friends, rather than traveling for business purposes.

And the trip home can seem more compulsory than a business trip at this time of year, said David Castelveter, the spokesman.

"My family is expecting me," he reported.

Castelveter said the Department of Homeland Security is encouraging people to be aware, but to behave as close to normal as possible.

The department secretary, Tom Ridge, said Sunday that the security alert - the first in six months - means that the government at all levels is taking extra steps to ensure the public safety.

Officials would not reveal all specific steps, but security experts said the number of air marshals will likely be increased, especially on international flights

Also, undercover surveillance around airports and more frequent air patrols near major cities are expected.

"Our government is doing everything we can to protect our country," President Bush said yesterday.

"American citizens need to go about their lives, but as they do so, they need to know that governments at all levels are working as hard as we possibly can to protect the American citizens."

Jay Ellenby, chief executive of Safe Harbors Travel Group in Baltimore, said the traveling public is cautious, but perhaps less jittery than a year or two ago in spite of the warning.

"People have had their tickets for a while and they're going to go," he said. "Two years ago, there may have been more of an issue in regard to cancellations."

At Baltimore-Washington International Airport, officials are expecting almost a 10 percent jump in travelers compared with a year ago.

This December, the airport is expecting 1.65 million travelers, up from 1.51 million in December 2002, said Jonathan Dean, an airport spokesman.

Passengers are advised to check in about 90 minutes before their scheduled flight, he said. Extra security gates opened before Thanksgiving to handle long lines.

"We don't expect any significant impact on travelers," Dean said.

To keep lines moving, the U.S. Transportation Security Administration, responsible for the airport security gates, recommends that passengers place all metal items in carry-on bags while waiting in line, remove laptop computers from cases before they reach the metal detector machines and remove coats.

It also advised making sure that prohibited items are not inadvertently packed, that undeveloped film that can be damaged by screening equipment is packed in carry-on bags and that gifts are left unwrapped.

Outside the gates, Maryland Transportation Authority Police plan to step up their presence. They've begun random vehicle inspections on roads around the airport, but no backups have been reported.

The authority also expects a holiday rush of 1.4 million vehicles to travel along area bridges and tunnels from tomorrow through Sunday and plans to increase police patrols and to keep construction-related closures to a minimum.

The American Trucking Association, the trade group for the trucking industry, warned carriers of fuel or hazardous chemicals to be alert, while advising all drivers to carry two forms of identification and watch for vehicles following them.

The port of Baltimore has also stepped up security, in addition to major measures already under way to comply with new federal requirements.

At the train stations, rail police will increase their presence in and around trains and at bridges and tunnels that they control in the Northeast during the holidays. That is standard procedure this time of year and not a result of the Code Orange, said Dan Stessel, an Amtrak spokesman. Photo identification is being checked when tickets are purchased and bags are checked.

Amtrak also predicts a busy week, aided by increased marketing. About 2 million people rode the passenger railroad last December. "I don't think anyone will be surprised that this December is busier than the previous December," Stessel said.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.