Airlines to make changing tickets easier if war begins

Wednesday, March 12th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) _ America's major airlines will make it easier for passengers to change tickets if the United States goes to war in Iraq, in hopes of assuring nervous travelers they can book their tickets with confidence.

Changes announced this month by American, United, Delta, Northwest, Continental, US Airways and other airlines generally would allow travelers, in the event of war, to avoid paying penalties if they want to reschedule their flights or even pick new destinations.

The contingency plans are a ``wise move'' by the airlines and should reassure potential travelers who've been holding back, said Terry Trippler, an airline expert with

``Go ahead and make your plans,'' Trippler advised travelers Wednesday. ``You're going to find some very good deals out there, particularly on international travel.''

The specific terms and windows for making changes vary from airline to airline, but restricted tickets would generally remain nonrefundable, and passengers who switch to higher-priced flights would have to pay the difference.

United, American, Continental and U.S. Airways would allow changes to both international and domestic flights. Delta's and Northwest's new policies apply only to international flights, so far. American, Continental and US Airways would also allow flight changes without penalty if the Homeland Security Department issues a ``Code Red'' terrorism alert.

The moves come at a time when the major airlines are asking the government for $9 billion in tax cuts to withstand the decline in air travel and rising fuel costs that could result from a war in Iraq. United and US Airways are already in bankruptcy, American is reported to be lining up financing in case it files for bankruptcy, and all other major carriers except Southwest Airlines are losing money.

Other segments of the travel industry are also dropping restrictions in hopes of overcoming war jitters. For example, Royal Caribbean Cruises has relaxed its cancellation policies for Mediterranean sailings. And rival Carnival has cut prices to lure travelers. Some hotels and ski areas have also taken similar steps to keep travelers coming if war breaks out.

``This is a great time to travel, a great time to go because the crowds are light and the prices are low,'' Trippler said.