- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 20, 2001

The nation's major airlines, while taking extensive steps to help travelers reschedule flights, are not accepting cancellations from travelers simply because they are afraid to fly.
Airlines currently offer refunds to those travelers with flights directly affected by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, but not those experiencing a newfound fear of flying.
One analyst predicted, however, that the airlines likely will soon bend on this policy.
"My gut feeling is that when the time comes, if you're still scared to fly, the airlines are probably going to be pretty lenient with you," said Terry Trippler, an airline analyst with OneTravel.com. "I'm going to be extremely disappointed in the airline industry if they don't refund the money of those people afraid to fly."
Travel agents and industry observers say airlines have been doing an admirable job of accommodating travelers whose plans were affected by last week's terrorist attacks.
"The airlines have been fairly cooperative," said Mary Long, owner of Ballston Travel in Arlington. "As much as I hate to say it, they've done a pretty decent job."
Agents said there have been some complaints from people wishing to cancel future flights out of fear. They did not offer strong opinions when asked about refunds for frightened travelers. While they said they want to accommodate their clients, the loss of commission would add another wound to a business already struggling in the wake of an overall downturn in travel.
Two days of shutdowns last week after the attacks and renewed skittishness about air travel are taking a massive toll on the airlines.
"There's a lot of fearful flyers right now," said Kimi Pineiro, owner of the Travel Center of Potomac.
Airlines have been reeling since the attacks, which have forced them to cut flights by as much as 20 percent. They've sliced thousands of jobs, as they burn through cash and eagerly await a possible government bail-out.
Many travelers are now trying to cancel flight plans, while others are trying to rearrange plans disrupted by the attack.
Nearly every airline has instituted new re-accommodation policies, which include the waiving of fees for a change of flight and offering full refunds on tickets normally deemed non-refundable. Travel agents have encouraged all travelers to check with their airline to determine their specific policies, as they differ from airline to airline.
As for the possibility of offering refunds to fearful travelers, the airlines declined to speculate.
"I can't talk about what we might or might not do," said Janice Monahan, spokeswoman for America West Airlines. Like the other major airlines, America West is currently offering refunds only to those passengers whose flights have been directly affected.
In this region, the closing of Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport has been a big concern for travelers. The airport was a major hub for several airlines, particularly US Airways, which had a presence at 10 gates. Observers said redirecting flights to Washington Dulles International Airport or Baltimore-Washington International Airport has been difficult, but that airlines are working to accommodate affected travelers.
"Personally, we have not seen this as a problem," Miss Long said.
She pointed out that even if US Airways was unable to move all its flights, passengers have been able to catch similar flights on other airlines at no extra charge.
"The airlines have always allowed it," Miss Long said. "That has not changed. Maybe a lot of people didn't know that."
Mr. Trippler urged travelers to hold off canceling future flights just yet.
"Let's give these airlines a chance," he said. "They've been hit hard here. My advice to the public is, 'Let's calm down right now.'"
Kitty Martin, owner of Travel Bound Inc. in Gaithersburg, echoed that sentiment.
"If your flight is in October, there's no advantage to canceling now," Miss Martin said.

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