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Vacations still on, but war fears change some schools' travel plans

March 21, 2003|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

gregs@herald-mail.com

The fear of terrorism resulting from the war in Iraq caused little disruption of area vacation travel plans Wednesday and Thursday, but school systems began canceling future trips to metro areas Wednesday afternoon as the war in Iraq geared up.

Washington County Public Schools and schools in Pennsylvania canceled all trips in the near future to metropolitan areas Wednesday evening. Schools in Berkeley County, W.Va., canceled similar trips earlier this week when the nation's threat level was raised to "high."

Boonsboro High School was the only school in Washington County that was affected Thursday, Schools spokeswoman Carol Mowen said.

Sally Poole, an instructional assistant there, said she had planned to take 15 students to the Baltimore area Thursday for a community service conference. The official cancellation came Wednesday at 2:30 p.m.

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"We had a lot of disappointed kids," Poole said. "This is their big celebration of the year."

But there wasn't much one could do about the situation, she said.

"I felt like it was a very sad day for the kids. ... It just made me a little angry or a little disappointed that we would have to be dictated (to)" by world events, Poole said.

In Washington County, there aren't any major school trips planned in the coming weeks, officials said, but athletic events at the end of the year could be affected if threats of terrorism increase.

"We're going to function as normal as we possibly can," said Eugene "Yogi" Martin, Washington County schools supervisor of health education, physical education and athletics.

"There may be a need to postpone a game or two, but I'm assuming that we're going to be able to go as scheduled," Martin said.

Mowen said administrators may send parents another round of permission slips for previously planned trips, but the policy for now is to keep re-evaluating travel plans.

"We're just going to have to take it week by week and day by day," Mowen said.

In Franklin County, Pa., Tuscarora School District Superintendent William Konzal said he and other county superintendents had canceled travel plans to major metro areas.

"We try to take local trips ... We try to keep it as safe as possible" because the threats do seem real, Konzal said.

"It's certainly something that keeps you on edge. It has the parents on edge," Konzal said.

Travel for the adults has not experienced major disruptions over the past few days, local travel operators said.

Belinda Stull, who owns the Carlson Wagonlit travel agency in Hagerstown, said people were, for the most part, not avoiding travel because of the war, but some were changing their destinations.

"We were busy today," Stull said from her office Wednesday. "People were booking, actually getting ready to go."

"Right now, we're not seeing a huge downturn, (but) people are traveling closer to home," Stull said. With her business numbers still down about 30 percent since 9/11, there is less travel to Europe, she said, but people are taking domestic vacations: Cruises and in-country flights to the opposite coast or Hawaii.

The one thing that has changed is the length of time between booking a vacation and traveling. While travelers used to book months ahead to save money, many travelers now fly within two weeks of booking, Stull said.

For those who are frightened by the war, some tour operators are allowing vacationers to defer travel for a year, but not everyone is doing the same thing, Stull said.

For the most part, Stull said, "I think people have become, you know, more educated about security and I think that they're less fearful of travel."

Art Richards, owner of Richards World Travel, said he's seeing a similar trend: Flights booked to Alaska are up, European trips are down.

"Some people are saying, 'I'm going to wait a while.' ... I can understand," said Richards, whose Hagerstown company operates in Maryland and West Virginia.

The large trips that are a big part of Richards' business have not taken a hit, he said. One trip leaving for Hawaii this weekend is on schedule with no cancellations, and he's taking a group to Ireland next week, with no cancellations so far.

Unlike 9/11, "They're not canceling in droves," Richards said. "They don't want to sit home and do nothing."

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