Local travelers dodge bullet

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 11, 2008

So far local travel agents, not to forget airline passengers they book, are breathing a sigh of relief.

As American Airlines continues to cancel thousands of flights nationwide, the travel meltdown has yet to hit home.

“We have people booked and have had a lot of people wondering if their flights have been canceled. But so far they have not,” Suzi Bloomfield, agent with Travel World, in Ironton, said. “I think we are lucky.”

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Safety inspections of American Airlines’ MD-80 jets have forced the Fort Worth-based airline to scrap more than 3,000 flights this past week. Cancellations have resulted from the airlines’ working to comply with a federal safety order initially issued in September 2006 to check the jets electrical wiring.

The Federal Aviation Administration issued the safety audits last month, but even that agency can’t dodge the wrath of Congress. Nicholas Sabatini of the FAA came under the gun Thursday as Congress grilled him on the FAA’s role in this travel debacle.

The situation with American wasn’t that much of surprise for Bloomfield who observed a somewhat comparable scenario earlier with United and Delta airlines when they canceled flights to check out the same kind of aircraft.

Although American doesn’t fly into Tri-State Airport, outside Huntington, W.Va., many of Bloomfield’s clientele could have become part of the ever-growing statistics as they do use the airline flying out of Columbus and Cincinnati airports.

Clients of AAA Travel Agency, also in Ironton, have also not been affected by the cancellations because they mainly use Tri-State.

“So far we are not (affected),” Rena Sparks, travel agent with AAA, said. “We use more US Airways and Delta.”

Other carriers like Continental Airlines Inc., JetBlue Airways Corp., AirTran Airways and Northwest Airlines said they passed the first round of FAA audits with a clean slate and did not expect extra maintenance work or flight delays. It is impossible to say whether that could change since the FAA is conducting another round of safety audits.

The Associated Press contributed information to this story.