- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 14, 2001

Several airlines reported a slight decline in traffic yesterday, the day after a jetliner crashed in New York. Some travelers chose Amtrak instead, but the train service said it was too early to tell if more people turned to the rails.
Most travelers believe the crash of American Airlines Flight 587 was an accident, travel agents said. Early evidence suggest the jetliner crashed because of mechanical problems, although investigators have not ruled out sabotage.
"We're not seeing a hysterical response from consumers," said Paul Ruden, a senior vice president for the American Society of Travel Agents. An informal poll of the trade group's members showed few consumers were canceling flight plans.
The timing of the crash could scarcely have been worse for the airlines, which are still struggling to recover from the September 11 terrorist attacks. Some analysts said the crash could fuel passengers' fear of flying and cause passenger levels to drop to the lows they reached in the days immediately after the attacks.
American Airlines, which lost two planes in the attacks, could lose $200 million to $250 million in revenue, according to Frank Werner, assistant professor of finance at Fordham University in New York. American was already expecting to lose nearly half a billion dollars this quarter, Mr. Werner told the Knight Ridder news service.
"It's a very big hit, and it's a hit that the airline really can't afford to take," said Mr. Werner, who specializes in airline finance and management.
An American Airlines spokeswoman said the company had no information on the number of bookings that have been canceled since the crash. The company is offering refunds to customers nervous about traveling.
Other airlines reported a slight decline in business, although they said final figures would not be available until the end of the month.
"It's not unusual to see a slight drop in bookings after an incident like this," said Cindi Kurczewski, spokeswoman for Delta Air Lines Inc. Some consumers may be nervous about flying after a plane crashes, but most travelers believe the skies are safe, she said.
Some travelers are choosing Amtrak over the airlines, although a spokeswoman for the train service said figures on ridership since Monday will not be available until the end of this week.
Amtrak accepted airline tickets for travel Monday on a first-come, first-served basis. Anecdotally, it appeared more people were hopping on trains.
"I don't intend to be blown up in the sky," said John Plymale, as he sat waiting for a train to arrive at Union Station yesterday. He was traveling to Salt Lake City from Jacksonville, Fla., by train.
"They say 'do what you normally want to do' and I am, just not on a plane," Mr. Plymale said. He has not traveled by train in 40 years, but said he might fly when he returns home in December.
"I used to fly from LaGuardia to D.C., but the issue of waiting makes taking the train easier," said Hisham Kullab, a director with Interns for Peace, a group that campaigns for peace between Israel and the Palestinians. "I enjoy the benefits of its price, if it comes at the same time [as a plane]."
The Amtrak Acela Express train that departed Penn Station in New York for Washington at 10 a.m. yesterday was overbooked, according to the conductor.
Several passengers including State Department officials returning from the recent U.N. General Assembly meeting said they took the train rather than fly because they fear terrorism and want to avoid airport security hassles.
"I generally take the shuttle, but I'm concerned about flying. I'm concerned about delays at New York and Washington [airports]," said Jamie Levitt, a New York lawyer who frequently comes to Washington for business meetings.
Another passenger, a U.S. diplomat who spoke off the record, said he switched from an airport shuttle for which he already had a ticket to take the train.
The diplomat cited concerns that the airports might delay him with long security procedures, but conceded with a slightly sheepish smile that he also had some concern about the safety of the airplanes.
Bus companies are still trying to assess the effect the crash might have on business.
"It's too early for us to tell about the impact of yesterday," said Kristen Parsley, spokeswoman for the Greyhound Lines Inc., the nation's largest passenger bus service.
Miss Parsley and Michele Janis, spokeswoman for the American Bus Association trade group, said a recent shift in ticket-sale patterns has indicated more people are choosing to take buses than fly.
Miss Parsley said that since September 11, there has been almost a 10 percent increase in passengers taking Greyhound for "long-haul" trips, or those of more than 1,000 miles. Furthermore, there has been a 20 percent spike in those buying tickets in advance.
Despite this, the bus industry has said it likely will fall short of last year's passenger numbers, and Miss Janis said the bus industry is unlikely to profit from fears relating to Monday's crash.
"It's not like [if] people are afraid to fly, the bus industry experiences a windfall," she said. "That's not the case at all."

Ben Barber and Kate Royce contributed to this report.

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