Economy not hurting travel

Published 9:12 am Monday, December 1, 2008

Holiday travelers are still making plans and buying airline tickets, despite ongoing economic problems. That’s the word from Ellen Kehr of Four Seasons Travel of Albert Lea.

“In the last two weeks of October everything just stopped. We were prepared for a soft year. Since then we have been pleasantly surprised. People are going to be traveling during the holiday season,” Kehr said.

The baby boom generation and their children seem to regard travel as a birthright, and something they have earned, Kehr said. Social mobility is a hallmark of American culture. Our hard-working forebears only traveled when they had to, and then usually by car, she said.

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Air travel at peak holiday times offers special challenges that require advance planning.

Booking flights well in advance, picking the right airline and avoiding lousy winter weather are all factors in holiday travel planning. Four Seasons Travel, and other local travel agents, can help people enjoy a smooth holiday travel experience.

On-line travel agencies such as Travelocity, Orbitz, Sidestep and are some other options for travelers who want to make their own arrangements, but Kehr doesn’t recommend them for holiday travel.

“People have different tolerance levels for what they can handle when they travel. Traveling takes longer around the holidays, so it’s a good idea to have a couple of extra days before and after the holiday, so if you get stranded or miss a flight, or your flight is delayed, you can still make the holiday,” Kehr said.

Direct flights on major airlines are highly recommended by Kehr. Though it might cost a little more money, a direct flight usually means fewer hassles with baggage claims and connecting flights.

“Direct flights allow you to land where you need to be,” Kehr said.

Airlines can only fly in and out of airports where they have boarding gates where passengers can get on and off the planes. Major airlines such as Delta, Northwest and Continental have gates at smaller regional airports. Smaller airlines tend to only have gates at major metropolitan airports. Passengers who book flights on smaller airlines can have problems at peak travel times and in bad weather. If flights are delayed or canceled, smaller carriers have fewer options where they can land.

Denver is the major hub for travel through the Rocky Mountain area, but it can be a real trouble spot for holiday travelers. “We tend to avoid Denver in the winter, because of the bad weather that can strand travelers,” Kehr said.

Airline passengers can save money and avoid hassles by planning holiday celebrations before or after the actual holiday date. Traveling after Thanksgiving weekend and before Dec. 20 is an excellent option, Kehr said.

Generational differences are another factor in holiday travel. Senior citizens don’t like to travel in winter or during the holidays.

“They are much more traditional. They want to host their families at their own home, and follow traditional patterns, especially in church,” Kehr said.

There are other signs that winter travel patterns will remain strong this year, Kehr said. Motorcoach tours have continued to fill up, though Four Seasons Travel schedules fewer bus trips in the winter. Long distance coach tours are the norm in winter, to avoid weather hassles.

“We like to have our motorcoaches travel straight through for about eight hours, to get away from the worst of winter,” Kehr said. Key West, Fla., and the Panama Canal are two of the winter destinations for the motorcoach tours from Albert Lea.

Economic problems did cause a temporary downturn in the travel business, Kehr said, but nothing like the situation after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

“Then there was a fear for people’s physical safety that lasted for a long time. That’s gone now. Today it’s more a concern about money,” Kehr said.