Travelers still stranded after attack | SteamboatToday.com

Travelers still stranded after attack

Danie Harrelson

— Across the country, thousands of stranded airline passengers are just trying to find their way home.

But boarding another flight after Tuesday’s airline hijackings has become an emotional chore.

“Many people are just trying to get unstranded,” said Julie Rabbitt, who owns Steamboat Reservations and Travel, Inc. “But the thought of flying again makes them sick.”

Soon after the Federal Aviation Administration grounded all flights Tuesday morning, local travel agencies were flooded with calls asking for help in finding a ride home.

Rabbitt, along with other travel agents in Steamboat Springs, has been trying since Tuesday morning to accommodate the large number of displaced people who have no way to get back to Colorado.

With airplanes grounded, and car rentals and trains all taken, the remaining modes of transportation are few, Rabbitt explained.

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A surprisingly small number of people called to cancel future flight reservations, and more just wanted some reassurance, she said.

“Yesterday (Tuesday) a lot closed down,” Rabbitt said. “But this is one business where we could actually help people.”

People realize that air travel is still the safest way to travel, she said, and their confidence will rise in time to fly during Thanksgiving or Christmas.

People may think twice about flying after Tuesday’s airline hijackings, but staying on the ground is not an option for most Americans, said Shirlee Finney, owner of Great Escape Travel.

“The basis of our economy is our mobility,” Finney said. “It’s our ability to travel.”

Business obligations and unexpected emergencies like funerals do not grind to a halt when disaster strikes, and people must get there somehow, she added.

“Nothing can compare to what happened yesterday,” Finney said. “But I think that people will get back up and fly again.”

While it is too early to determine how the terrorist attacks might have impacted the travel industry, would-be travelers should know that at least for now, a seat on any airplane will be hard to find, said Nancy Barnes, a partner at Carlson Wagonlit Travel.

When strikes curbed some airlines’ flights in the past, passengers always had alternative airlines to board, Barnes said.

The assault on the World Trade Towers and the Pentagon, however, grounded the entire airline industry, she added.

“People need to know that they just can’t walk up to a counter and get a flight right away,” she said. “When there are no planes in the air, no one can fly.”

Barnes said she is impressed that so many passengers have been patient and understanding of the reasons behind their stranded situation.

She anticipates air travel will be burdened by delays and heightened safety precautions for a week or more.

“It’s a scheduling nightmare until things are back to normal if you can ever call it normal again,” Barnes said.

Depending on the airline, ticket refunds or new travel arrangements will be offered up to Sept. 18 with no penalty.

“We’re just trying to be as accommodating as possible right now,” Barnes said.