- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 5, 2001

Airlines are beginning to drop their prices to European countries whose livestock are being ravaged by the highly contagious foot-and-mouth disease.
Carriers that have not dropped their rates are planning to do so if the disease continues to frighten away travelers, the airlines and travel agents said.
"The combination of the [slowing] U.S. economy as well as the concern for the foot-and-mouth disease has created a slowing down of bookings in the last couple of weeks to Ireland and Europe generally," said Jack Foley, Aer Lingus' vice president of North American operations.
Last week, Aer Lingus, the Irish national airline, dropped its cheapest round-trip fare between Baltimore-Washington International Airport and Dublin or Shannon from $682 with tax to $452 with tax.
"Since we launched it last week, it's obviously had a good impact," said Mr. Foley. "We've seen our reservations go up by about 25 percent."
Foot-and-mouth disease, sometimes referred to as hoof-and-mouth disease, is caused by a virus that is harmless to humans but is devastating for cattle, swine and other cloven-hooved animals.
Officials at British Airways, which is offering its lowest round-trip fares between Washington Dulles International Airport and London for $451 with tax, say their fares might stay low instead of rising during the travel season that begins later this month.
Normally, airlines increase fares in mid-April from their winter low and raise them again in June during the summer peak season.
Foot-and-mouth disease, however, is prompting would-be travelers to call the airline to ask about the risks or to change their travel plans away from rural areas.
"If in the next few weeks, the situation does not get any better, there might be all kinds of efforts to attract people," said John Lampl, British Airways spokesman.
Cheaper fares, more advertising and other marketing techniques might be used to make up for any drop in tourists, he said. "Those are things that various people are discussing right now," said Mr. Lampl.
He blamed much of the concern on misunderstandings and hysteria.
"We've had a lot of calls, definitely," said Mr. Lampl. "Our concern is to answer questions from passengers. The main thing is to educate people that foot-and-mouth disease is not transmissible to humans. Britain is open for business."
Some tourists are getting foot-and-mouth confused with mad cow disease, bovine spongiform encephalopathy, which is a deadly, brain-destroying illness.
British authorities say the tourism industry is losing about $140 million per week. That's expected to increase to a $350 million loss per week during the height of the tourism season in July and August.
While foot-and-mouth is not dangerous to the travelers, the outbreak is prompting British and Irish authorities to close popular tourist destinations, like Stonehenge, and country roads. Also, authorities are warning travelers not to visit farms with livestock or go near animals.
British officials reported yesterday that there have been signs of progress in stemming the spread of the disease, making it less likely that the country will have to vaccinate 180,000 cattle, Prime Minister Tony Blair's office said.
"I would say a lot of people are doing a wait-and-see, particularly if they are planning to go in May or June," said Jean West, British travel consultant for Uniglobe Democracy Travel's office in Northwest.
The foot-and-mouth outbreak can have only a modest effect on travel plans if the travelers schedule their trips around it, she said.
"Park authorities are advising people to avoid farmland and livestock," Mrs. West said. "If you stay on designated trails and don't go wandering off on your own, you're probably going to be OK."
So far, the only other countries with reported outbreaks are France and the Netherlands. Germany and Denmark are investigating possible outbreaks, as well.
Air France's cheapest round-trip flights between Dulles and Paris cost $446 with tax. KLM Royal Dutch Airline's cheapest round-trip fares between Dulles and Amsterdam are $425.
British Airways and many other airlines that travel to countries with foot-and-mouth disease are allowing travelers who already made reservations to change their travel dates or itineraries without the usual $100 to $150 change fee.
Northwest Airlines spokesman Doug Killian said the waivers came after some individual passengers, an estimated 200 in the past month, and groups requested delays in their travel to Britain because of concern about the outbreak.
Foot-and-mouth disease has been found in more than 1,000 sites in Britain. France, Ireland and the Netherlands have reported only a few cases. The United States and Japan have banned meat imports from all European Union countries in response to the outbreak.
A slew of ticket cancellations followed the cancellation of Ireland's traditional St. Patrick's Day celebrations as Irish officials tried to control the spread of the disease, Aer Lingus officials said.
Continental Airlines Inc. and Delta Air Lines, which compete with Aer Lingus on the Dublin and Shannon routes, said they had felt no impact from the outbreak in bookings or pricing.
"We selectively match prices on other airlines to stay competitive," a Continental spokesman said.
But travel agencies and specialists said the outbreak remained a concern for summer bookings.
"We have some cancellations. People are waiting to see what happens and if prices will go any lower," said Chris Accomando at Sceptre Tours, a Long Island, N.Y., tour company that specializes in Ireland.
The airlines are doing whatever they can to ward off customer fears.
Northwest Airlines Corp. has removed pork and lamb from its in-flight menu on U.S.-bound flights from Europe. It removed beef from its U.S.-bound flights from Europe last month.
United Airlines said it had previously removed beef and veal from meals on such flights.
"Following the mad cow disease, I think people are very nervous about this, not only with British meat but also European meat," said David Stempler, president of the Washington-based Air Travelers Association.

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