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Flight Resumption Delayed

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Posted September 12, 2001 By Beth Cox     Feedback

Travel sites scramble to answer customer calls; new poll finds confidence in airport security has plunged -- could that translate into fewer bookings for online travel sites?

Online travel sites today were focused largely on the logistics of handling thousands of customer inquiries as the nation's airline system began the struggle to return the U.S. transportation system to normal, although it was unclear when flights would resume.

The Federal Aviation Administration continued its ban on flying past noon today and said it wasn't sure when airline flights would resume. Delta Airlines said all of its flights would be canceled until at least 6 p.m. EDT, including commuter flights. Southwest Airlines said it would not fly at all Wednesday.

When travel does resume, "Passengers should expect to have to devote more time to the check-in process," an FAA spokesman was quoted as saying.

Perhaps not surprisingly, a quick poll found that Americans' confidence in airport security had plunged following the terrorist hijackings that resulted in Tuesday's national tragedy in New York, Washington D.C. and Pennsylvania.

More than two-in-three Americans (68 percent) said their confidence in airport security has gone down as a result of the terrorist events, and half (50 percent) are less confident about the safety of U.S. landmarks and tourist attractions, according to an Ipsos-Reid poll of Americans nationwide.

The international independent polling firm conducted a survey with a representative sample of 500 adults nationwide on Tuesday evening.

Air travel has been one of the shining stars in the e-commerce world, and clearly travel sites stand to be hurt if a sizable portion of leisure travel is postponed or canceled due to fear of flying.

But for the moment, most travel sites were focusing on how to handle their current customers, both those stranded by the nationwide air travel shutdown and by those who will be affected by changes in scheduled flights over the next few days as the nation's air system struggles to return to normalcy.

Expedia told its customers: "Passengers should note that even when the FAA allows commercial airplanes back in the air, it doesn't mean that all airports and airlines will begin operating right away. Also, given that many planes were diverted from their destinations and many passengers were stranded en route yesterday, flight schedules will be slow to return to normal."

Both Travelocity and Priceline.com posted messages to their customers, suggesting that those with concerns about scheduled flights for later this week call their customer service numbers.

"We want to help you as much as we can and provide you with the most up-to-date information available," Travelocity told its visitors, adding that "if you plan to travel, we recommend that you re-confirm your plans before going to the airport."

Travelocity and Priceline both reminded customers that their call centers may be experiencing delays to due call volume.

Asked about bookings, Priceline spokesman Brian Ek said in an e-mail exchange "we don't publish daily numbers. Never have. Our focus right now is working with customers who are mid-flight or about to take their trips."

Orbitz, the travel site run by a consortium of airlines, said on its Web site that "If you are holding a flight reservation for the next 48 hours ... Orbitz will advise you as soon as we have more information from the airlines. For additional information check the airlines' Web sites ... or contact Orbitz Customer Service (888) 656-4546. Due to the large volume of calls, you might anticipate a long wait."

Meanwhile, when flights do resume, U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta said "There will be higher levels of surveillance, more stringent searches... Travelers may experience some inconveniences, but we ask for your patience. We must do whatever it takes with safety as our highest priority."

Officials are asking travelers to go to their airports two hours before flight time to allow for tighter security procedures. Passengers will not be able to check luggage at curbside. Additionally, security personnel may single out more travelers for baggage and personal inspection. And airports may restrict parking to keep vehicles at a distance from terminals. They also may limit concourse access to ticketed passengers only.

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