Airlines cutting flights on September 11, 2002
By Dave Carpenter
Wednesday, July 31, 2002; 6:10 PM


Some of the nation's largest airlines are cutting back their Sept. 11 flight schedules, bowing to Americans' reluctance to fly on the anniversary of the attack.

American and United, the two biggest carriers, are making unspecified reductions for that day based on weak bookings. No. 3 Delta is trimming flights for the entire work week of Sept. 9-13.

Unease about another terrorist strike is behind the decline in bookings, but so are patriotism and remembrance, according to interviews with consumers, travel agents and industry experts.

Some said the date just doesn't seem right for scheduling business or pleasure trips.

"To me, that's a national holiday now," Donnie Rose, a 49-year-old policeman from Cambridge, Ohio, said at the airport in Columbus. A frequent flier, he will avoid the skies that day.

Even for a midweek in September, a traditionally slow travel period, numerous agencies nationwide say they have noticed a particular reluctance among both business and leisure travelers to make reservations around Sept. 11, which falls on a Wednesday.

"A lot of people don't want to travel that day just for the feeling of it," said Marat Shkandin, a manager at Liberty Travel, just blocks from World Trade Center site in New York. "The actual day still means something to people."

More than 3,000 people died that day after suicidal hijackers crashed commercial jetliners into the trade center, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania.

Air travel fell dramatically after the attacks before making a strong comeback. Government measures have helped invigorate the ailing industry, including a multibillion-dollar bailout for struggling carriers and toughened checkpoint standards.

But passenger traffic was still down 10.4 percent in June from a year earlier, according to the industry's Air Transport Association. Many consumers remain skittish about air travel, with polls indicating that security improvements have only partially restored lost confidence.

Michael Wascom, a spokesman for the airline association, played down the fear factor while acknowledging that travel may be down on Sept. 11.

"It'll be business as usual that day. In fact, one of the safest places to be on 9-11-02 will be aboard a commercial aircraft," he said, citing the stepped-up security. "But I think people will be focused on other issues and not necessarily taking a trip."

None of the airlines cutting flights would say how many will be canceled or on which routes. Among those flights that won't be operating are those for the four planes that went down in the attacks. American Airlines retired the two daily flights, while United renumbered its two and canceled them altogether for the anniversary.

"We have made a small adjustment in our schedule downward just for Sept. 11, because of anticipated lower demand," said United spokesman Joe Hopkins. "But we'll still be operating the bulk of our schedule," including all international flights.

American, the No. 1 carrier, expects to cancel a smaller number of flights on Sept. 10 and Sept. 12 because bookings are lagging. Delta Air Lines cut back for a longest period, Sept. 9-13, citing weak bookings.

Northwest declined to comment and Continental Airlines hasn't decided whether to scale back on Sept. 11. Spokesmen for both US Airways and America West Airlines said they anticipate neither a travel drop-off nor schedule adjustments.

Nervousness about flying could be highest in the cities of last year's attacks. At STA Travel in Boston, where two of the hijacked flights originated, agent Idoia Mezo said it's clear people are trying to avoid Sept. 11 flights.

"If they can choose, they won't take the 11th," she said. "It's more like a superstition than being scared."

In New York, cook Darryl Cherry said she wouldn't mind traveling on Sept. 11 - "so long as it's not by plane." Neery Melkonian, who also works in New York, said she would have no trouble flying that day.

"Life goes on," she said. "Besides, I don't think they'd strike on the same day again."