NEWS

Nervous travelers shun the skies

The effects of the terrorist strikes on the USA on September 11 and the current climate of war have swept through Greece’s airline industry – Greek and foreign companies – like a tidal wave. People are not only dissuaded by the fear of a potential terrorist attack. Quarantine-like conditions at the airports and on the aircraft have only intensified the insecurity, and it is likely to be some time before passengers overcome their fears. Traffic is not only down on international flights, but on domestic flights as well. Staff cutbacks and reduced schedules are the order of the day for most airlines. Of course, it is the passengers who will have to pay part of the bill, since many airlines have already raised ticket prices. In Greece, passenger traffic is down on most airlines. According to Olympic Airways figures, there were 12 percent fewer passengers on international flights in September compared to the same month last year, while flights to the USA were carrying 18 percent fewer passengers and those to Canada 7 percent fewer. Traffic on domestic flights was down by 3 percent. Although figures were down for OA, Greece’s largest airline, as well as the major international carriers, the opposite was true for Greece’s private airline companies. According to Aegean-Cronus’s commercial director, Stavros Daliakas, in September 2001 about 41,000 passengers bought tickets to European destinations with the airline, up by 1,000 from the same month last year. Things were even better for Axon Airlines, whose three foreign destinations attracted 19,000 passengers from Greece in September, compared to 15,300 last year. However, the airline believes that these carriers will begin to feel the crunch during the winter months, when package tours tail off. According to Air France Director-General Claude Maire, Air France flights from Athens to the USA and Canada via Paris dropped between 12-15 percent in September, and the crisis is expected to last until January. Four major French travel agencies are advising their customers not to travel abroad but to keep up with their friends via e-mail. British Airways says its flights from Athens are down by 9 percent, which is also about the reduction in capacity decided on by the airline. BA has yet to announce any cuts in schedules to Athens, despite having reduced its overall number of flights by 190 per week. It is expected to cut another 20 flights to European destinations. Lufthansa’s first crisis victim was its Thessaloniki-Germany route. After 30 years, the German giant is to stop its services from Macedonia airport as of the end of October – it currently has 13 direct flights per week to Munich. Lufthansa has also cut flights from Frankfurt to Washington and New York and has put some European destinations, although not Athens, on temporary hold. Turkish Airlines is to abolish flights from Thessaloniki to Istanbul as capacity – which stood at about 50 percent before September 11 – has dropped drastically. According to the International Air Transport Association, air traffic generally is expected to drop by 35 percent over the next three months. Many airlines have already announced flight reductions and staff cuts. It looks like it will be some time before the greatest crisis in the history of air travel is eventually over, and it is the smaller airlines, such as Belgium’s Sabena, Portugal’s TAP or Finland’s Finnair, not to mention OA, that will suffer most. Hotels: Bookings canceled, rooms vacant One after another, conferences scheduled for the fall in Athens are being canceled, and hotel bookings with them. There is no indication that they are simply being postponed. Although the high season is over, tourism throughout Europe has suffered a major setback. Compared with other countries, however, Greece is getting off fairly lightly. For a start, it has far fewer American visitors than other countries in Europe – around 250,000 per year, including Greek Americans. But it is not only Americans who have changed their plans since September 11. Not even the Europeans are coming, Aristotelis Divanis of the Chamber of Greek Hotels told Kathimerini. All the conferences have been canceled. Hotels in Athens and Thessaloniki are facing a serious problem. At several large hotels in Athens entire floors have been sealed off because they are out of use. Cruise boat travelers, many of them American, who used to depend on three or four nights in Athens during their visit, will be conspicuously absent this year. Nobody knows how to deal with the situation, says Divanis. This will go on for at least six months. It’s not something you can easily get out of your mind. Still quiet at Eleftherios Venizelos airport By Lina Yiannarou Kathimerini The Eleftherios Venizelos airport at Spata is still quiet more than a month after the attacks on New York and Washington, and as American attacks on Afghanistan continue. The reduced number of travelers and heightened security measures are apparent. The only lines are due to the detailed security checks being carried out by airline staff, while the airport shops and restaurants are practically empty for the first time. Business is down by about half, a clerk at one of the stores told us. And people aren’t in the mood to shop, let alone travel. An American couple from Houston are waiting for their flight to Santorini. We feel a bit awkward, but we didn’t want to change our plans, says Mercedes. A group of Dutch tourists on their way back to Amsterdam feel comfortable. The security has been beefed up. Why shouldn’t we travel? It’s not as if we were going to New York. The increased presence of police and security guards indicates the seriousness of the situation. Passenger numbers are obviously lower, says a police officer. Olympic has been less affected than the other airlines; Greeks in general feel safer. Two Greek Australians on their way home to Sydney had no second thoughts: What are we supposed to do – stay here? Besides, they’re against the Americans, not the whole world. Some travelers are not in a position to postpone flying. A passenger waiting for a Malta flight is on a business trip that would be hard to reschedule. In any case, he admits, I don’t like flying. This isn’t the best thing that could have happened to me. It’ll be a long time before we feel safe again. Two friends traveling to Spain adopt a logical approach: We’re in more danger from imminent biological warfare than from a hijacking. The danger is so great nowadays that there’s no point in taking precautions. Passengers and their baggage continue to undergo exhaustive checks and stringent security measures, which look like staying in place for some time. But nothing so far has managed to pep up business at airports around the world.