Don’t look for long security lines at the nation’s airports on or around Sept. 11. Indications are that lots of people will be staying home.
“My guess is that, if people have a choice of whether to fly or not Sept. 11, they will probably decide not to,” said Mark Berman, vice president of business development for The Mallett Group, a New England-based travel consulting firm.
Berman, a licensed psychotherapist, called the reluctance to fly “an emotionally based reaction.”
Another psychologist, Dr. Stuart Fischoff of California State University, Los Angeles, concurred.
“There are people for whom the anniversary of anything negative [will engender] panic and anxiety,” Fischoff said. “And they will do nothing in any way that will connect them with that.”
The airlines have apparently connected the dots already. American and United, the carriers most emotionally associated with that terrible Tuesday, have cut their Sept. 11 flight schedules. Delta is reducing departures for the week of Sept. 9-13, while other carriers are weighing their options.
So far, Southwest stands apart. For that carrier, it’s business as usual. Are the cutbacks the result of reduced demand or media-induced angst?
“It’s almost a self-fulfilling prophecy,” Berman said. “The airlines announced that they’re cutting back flight schedules in anticipation [of the first anniversary of the terrorist attacks]. I’m sure they have some quantifiable data that their reservations aren’t coming in. But, in a way, it becomes self-fulfilling, because people say, ‘Well, maybe there’s a reason not to go.’ ”
Fischoff contended that, if there’s a place to be in the United States on Sept. 11, it’s probably on an airplane.
“That’s the place that would be most secure,” he said.
Steve Cosgrove, owner of Dynamic Travel and Cruises in Southlake, Texas, certainly thinks it’s the safest place. He wholeheartedly agreed with the self-fulfilling prophecy assessment.
The reason travel will fall off, he maintained, is “because of all the media frenzy.” Barring that, he said he believes the impact would be “absolutely nothing.”
With networks planning comprehensive coverage of the day’s events and some advertisers canceling commercials, chances are that much of the nation will be bathed in the subdued, blue light emanating from their television sets that Wednesday. And indications are that corporate America is gearing down for a day of business that’s anything but usual.
Though he believes “very few corporations will tell employees not to travel,” Kevin Mitchell, president of the Business Travel Coalition and editor of BTCTravelogue.com, said many of them let it be known that, if employees aren’t comfortable flying that day, they shouldn’t feel pressured to get on the road.
He said perhaps Delta is onto something in trimming its schedule the week of Sept. 9.
Mitchell is aware of instances in which conventions, conferences and training sessions “have been scheduled out of that week.”
If there’s a drop-off in business travel, most observers believe there will be an even sharper diminution of leisure travel.
“Leisure and optional travel will be deferred,” Berman said. “That will be pretty widespread.”
Not, however, if you listen to Steve Cosgrove.
“We’ve got people leaving for Australia Sept. 11,” he said. “We have people going to Europe on the 12th.”
If psychologist Fischoff is correct, expect young people to do most of the traveling Sept. 11.
“They have a greater sense of invulnerability,” he said. “They’re more likely to be the risk-takers.”
Don’t expect the airlines to risk boosting traffic by offering bargain fares or frequent-flyer bonuses.
“I think that would be a mistake,” Berman said. “It’s a day to be respectful.”
Cosgrove said he considers respect imperative. But he also believes there’s a better way America can honor the dead on the first anniversary of the tragedy. And that would be to render Sept. 11 “the biggest day of tourism” ever, he said. “That would just send an incredible message.”
He wants travel agents to donate a percentage of their sales from Sept. 11 to an organization such as the September 11 Fund.
“We’d be promoting travel,” he said, but not in a tawdry manner.
Fly free with Spirit on 9/11
As a thank-you to the American public and to its valued customers, Spirit Airlines is offering free flights on Sept. 11.
Spirit will fly a full schedule of more than 90 flights that day. The carrier serves four Western cities: Denver, Las Vegas, Los Angeles and Oakland. Reservations can be made online at www.spiritair.com or through a travel agent.
The airline will accept free-flight bookings through Sept. 8 or until all 13,000 Spirit seats are filled, whichever comes first.