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Airlines profiting, passengers adjusting well five years later

Sunday, September 10, 2006

(Photo)
Nate Hawkins, Sikeston Board of Municipal Utilities employee, checks the American flag at Veteran's Park Friday afternoon. In recognition of Patriot Day and in accordance with President George W. Bus
SIKESTON -- These days the safety of flying post-9/11 doesn't cause too much concern for those who choose to travel by air -- it's the airport security checks that seem to be aggravating them.

"Fear (of flying) immediately heightened after 9/11. Air travel pretty much went in the tank," said Mike Right, spokesperson for AAA in St. Louis.

But almost five years after the attacks on America on Sept. 11, 2001, more people are choosing to fly again. In fact, many airlines are actually making a profit this year, Right said.

"This has been a pretty good year for airlines," Right said "Many of them are going to produce a profit because of the loads they're carrying and adjustments in their schedules over the past few years."

Changes in the nation's airport security are just a bit more annoying for people to fly than in the past, Right said. But people are adjusting to it rather well, he added.

John Harper, president of Harper's Travel Service in Sikeston, remembers a lot of concern with air travel safety a year or two following 9/11, he said.

"Today we don't notice a lot of apprehension about flying," Harper said. "We notice apprehension about the security checks people go through. That's foremost on their minds. Most of them realize security checks are necessary, but the way they're handled and the time it takes to check everything -- it's kind of nit-picking."

Often times air travelers are more curious about what items they can take on the plane or how much luggage they can take, Harper said.

"They don't like to have to take off their shoes, and they don't know what they can take on a plane and can't," Harper said.

But like Right, Harper said he thinks more air travelers today are becoming more in-tune with the regulations.

"The concerns are still about the same as they were pre-9/11. Everyone wants to know if they're flight will be on time, late arrivals, loss of baggage and that's a big thing with them," Harper said.

Harper said there's hardly any comparison between airport security before and after 9/11.

"Before 9/11, you would go through security check, and it was very minimal," Harper said. "They were usually looking for a knife or gun, and now they're having to look for a lot of items you might carry on the plane."

Harper said he thinks airports are much more secure than five years ago.

"I also think there's a little overkill. At the same time, if it keeps you from getting blown up, it's worth it," Harper said.

Air travel is increasing and so many of the 120- to 150-passenger planes have been replaced with smaller planes that hold one-third the number of passengers as the larger planes, Harper said.

The most intriguing current trend in air travel is the resurgence of interest in international travel, Right said.

"This year we've seen a noticeable increases in international travel," Right said.

But Harper, who has worked in the travel industry for 35 years, said Southeast Missouri always runs behind in trends.

"I think there's more apprehension about traveling out of the country than staying within the country to travel -- of course, that's debatable in some of major cities," Harper said.

More and more people are using Internet arrangements to purchase their plane tickets, Right said. However, for the more complicated trips, people are looking to travel agents, given all the regulations one gets in, such as border crossings, passports, international driving permits, etc., he said.

"People are beginning to come back to travel agents because of the value of their assistance eliminates their problems," Harper said.

Harper's Travel, which handles more commercial travel for corporations than with individuals, main business includes cruises, tours, travel by train and even airline ticket sales.

"We provide assistance as necessary," Harper said. "When the hurricane (Katrina) hit, travel agencies were there to assist their clients in getting those people back home. People who purchased tickets from the Internet had no assistance. They were stranded without any help."

Regardless of how an individual purchases their airline tickets, the bottom line is flying is one of the safest forms of travel, Right said.

"Air transportation is one of the safest modes of transportation that exists in this country," Right said.