- The Washington Times - Friday, March 21, 2003

Airline industry officials say they are trying to carry on business as usual even as international flights are canceled and the nation moves into a "high" security-alert status.
Most U.S. carriers continued their international routes yesterday, though they said cancellation of some international flights is likely. Continental Airlines suspended routes to Britain and France.
For travelers, the elevated security alert and outbreak of war in Iraq mean more random vehicle searches, bomb-sniffing dogs and uniformed security officers at airports in the Washington area and the nation.
For airlines, the higher fuel prices and reduced number of passengers that typically accompany war mean a bad financial situation will worsen.
They also increase the risk that bankrupt United Airlines will liquidate and that American Airlines, the world's largest, will be driven into bankruptcy.
Meanwhile the industry is trying to make coping with war as painless as possible for its customers.
"Other than the possibility a vehicle could be searched, there shouldn't be anything that is different for the public," said Tara Hamilton, spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which manages Ronald Reagan Washington National and Washington Dulles International airports.
She admitted that security operations were working out of public view.
"There are, but obviously we wouldn't talk about those," Miss Hamilton said.
The federal Transportation Security Administration forbids airline and airport representatives from disclosing many security arrangements.
Major airlines were assessing the impact of the outbreak of war yesterday before adjusting their schedules.
American Airlines has not cut flights, but Chief Executive Donald J. Cart told employees yesterday that service between the United States and Europe would probably be reduced.
"We're certain to face even more pressure on a financial scale" because of the war, he said.
Several airlines including American Airlines this week eliminated fees of up to $100 for altering reservations. The "comfort level policy" is an accommodation for passengers forced to change schedules because of political tensions.
United Airlines and Arlington's US Airways, both in bankruptcy protection, also were waiting to determine the effect of war on their operations before changing their schedules.
"We haven't made any announcements yet," said Rich Nelson, spokesman for United Airlines, which also eliminated its ticket-change fees this week.
United's unions said yesterday the airline will reduce flights in April as a result of the war.
Officials for US Airways said they expected to avoid severe complications because most of their flights are domestic.
Many international air carriers announced flight cancellations yesterday, particularly to Middle Eastern destinations. They include Germany's Lufthansa, Dutch carrier KLM, Austrian Airlines and British Airways.
Singapore Airlines even canceled flights to Las Vegas and Chicago, and reduced service to New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco, citing "softening demand" as a result of war.
The industry's comfort level dropped with the bombs that fell on Iraq Wednesday night and yesterday. The Air Transport Association, the trade group for major airlines, estimates a war lasting more than 90 days would cost the U.S. airline industry $4 billion this year.
"It's not going to help it, that's for sure," said Darryl Jenkins, director of George Washington University's Aviation Institute. "We're going to see a decrease in bookings and most likely an increase in costs."
United Airlines is likely to be hurt the worst, he said.
"This could well be the end for United Airlines," Mr. Jenkins said.
Some members of Congress want to offer a multibillion-dollar bailout to airlines harmed by war.
Rep. James L. Oberstar, Minnesota Democrat, this week proposed a rescue package for airlines that would total between $4 billion and $5 billion and would assist airlines depending on their needs.
Two senior Senate Republicans, John McCain of Arizona and Trent Lott of Mississippi, wrote to the White House earlier this week asking whether the Bush administration planned to offer an aid plan.
An opportunity could come in the next few days, when the administration is expected to propose an emergency spending bill for Iraq war expenses. But a White House official declined to say yesterday whether that measure would include airline aid.
"We've talked with the airlines. Of course we'll continue to do that. We recognize the issues they face. We're listening to the airlines. We understand what their concerns are and we are studying the situation," the official said.
This article is based in part on wire-service reports.

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