3 August 2002

BA cancels flights on anniversary of attacks

By Terri Judd and Rebecca Eames

British Airways has cancelled a third of its transatlantic flights on 11 September because travellers are reluctant to fly on the anniversary of the terrorist attacks.

Whether out of superstition, respect for the bereaved or fear of a repeat attack, bookings have fallen sharply a year after the hijacked aircraft smashed into the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon, the carrier has found.

American Airlines and Virgin Atlantic have also been affected, though they have yet to decide whether to cut any services.

Twenty-four British Airways flights to or from America and one to and from Barbados have been cancelled. The routes affected are from Heathrow to San Francisco, Washington, Philadelphia and Miami, as well as from Gatwick to Phoenix and San Diego. The airline has also cancelled a Heathrow-to-Washington flight on 10 September and the return trip two days later.

"The reason for these cancellations is that bookings are low, but we have ensured that people from those flights are accommodated on others to the same destination," said Cathy West, a BA spokeswoman.

"It's difficult to know the exact reason for the lack of bookings but, understandably, people are choosing not to fly on the anniversary."

Concorde will operate as usual, as will four of the normal, subsonic London-to-New York services.

Since September, airlines have noticed more customers waiting until the last minute before committing themselves to a flight, although there was little early indication of a dip in charter-flight sales or those to long-haul destinations on 11 September.

But now, almost across the board, the main carriers have experienced a fall in demand for the infamous date. American Airlines, which lost two planes in the hijackings, has yet to decide on its services for the first anniversary.

The airline's spokeswoman, Rebecca Aldridge, said: "We have noticed some fall-off in bookings, which is to be expected, especially among Americans. We have made some reductions to US domestic flights but we have not made any decision about international services."

She added: "We believe this is because people may have other priorities such as memorial services and spending time with their family, particularly in the US."

Virgin Atlantic also reported a slight cut in bookings. While it still planned to operate a full service to destinations including New York, Washington, Boston and Miami, the situation would be reviewed, the airline said. A spokeswoman, Anna Burdsall, said: "Bookings at this stage certainly look lower for New York flights on 11 September, but it is slightly too early to tell."

Mike Carter, of Continental Airlines, conceded that sales were lower than for last year but insisted there was no "significant shift". He said: "Wednesday is typically one of the least busy days of the week. Although our thoughts will be with the families of the victims of last year's tragedy, it will be very much business as usual."

New York's tourist office, however, was convinced the date would affect numbers of travellers. "There are a lot of people that are unsure about flying to New York around 11 September but some people seem to think that it might be the safest time to travel," said a

Predictably, bookings have been hit hardest in the United States.

Sean Tipton, of the Association of British Travel Agents, said this might be one reason why the transatlantic carriers, which also rely on trade abroad, had suffered the most. In contrast, there is little fall in demand for the charter airlines. "September is also a pretty slow month for us and Wednesdays are very quiet. So no one has reported any significant change. If the attack anniversary had fallen on a Saturday in August it might be different," he said.

Certainly, there were few indications yesterday that events would grind to a halt on this side of the Atlantic on 11 September. Few theatres, hotels, restaurants or corporate hospitality venues have reported any significant drop in bookings, though many acknowledged that it might be too early to say.

Jason Ludlow, of Events UK, said that, while they had no bookings for that day, this was not necessarily significant. But he added: "I would not want to do anything on that day; our clients are inviting their clients to an event and it could be seen as bad PR to do anything on 11 September."