In her 15 years as a travel agent at Orange Tree Travel, Cindy Magnussen has helped many passengers stranded by canceled airplane flights return to Storm Lake by a variety of alternate modes of transportation.
This past week, however, the veteran agent has handled more travel problems than she would hope to see in a whole career.
The aftershocks of last Tuesday's terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.C. are being felt by Storm Lake travel agencies, as employees of both Orange Tree Travel and Nomad Travel Agency have helped numerous clients rearrange plans and find ways to leave or return to Storm Lake.
Many were unable to make their way back to northwest Iowa after the tragedies in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania, but Magnussen said the majority of simply tried to make the best of it.
"I think most people were just thankful to stay put," Magnussen said. "Some had to rent cars, but many companies were not letting their cars go out of state, so they ran into that. The majority of people are back here now, but there are some that are still gone."
Jean Paterson, a full-time employee of Nomad Travel Agency since 1980, also said people have realized the circumstances involving their delays were beyond the control of anyone in the travel industry.
"Everyone I've been in contact with has been more than understanding, because they know that the events of the past week have been out of everyone's control," Paterson said. "They know we're doing the best we can to help them with their plans, and we've been able to get everyone back home."
The two-day nationwide aviation shutdown also affected those who were trying to leave the Midwest to go to other locations across the country.
Magnussen said she knew of several people who missed weddings due to concerns over airline safety and travel, and said she was sympathetic to the plight of those families.
"I know of three people for sure who were set to travel to family weddings and then canceled those tickets," Magnussen said. "That's definitely not an easy decision at all, and I feel for those people, especially since they were supposed to go to a family occasion like that."
The choice to cancel scheduled flights or not has become a confusing issue for many passengers, as refund policies vary widely among the different airlines.
"It really depends on the airline," Paterson said. "All of them have their own rules about refund policies, and those rules are changing constantly, so it has become a wait-and-see deal for many people. That's why we're trying to get the most up-to-date information we can. We want to get that information out to our customers and help them as much as we can."
"A lot of people are concerned about the situation," Magnussen said. "Quite a few have asked for refunds on their tickets, and the airlines are being helpful to us as far as that is concerned."
Despite the numerous cancellations and refunds of tickets, both travel companies are still fielding many calls from people wishing to book flights to both domestic and international destinations.
Magnussen said many of those new passengers felt the possible risks of flying were minimized due to increased security at airport terminals across the nation.
"We've been busy over the past few days," Magnussen said. "There are some people that aren't fazed at all. They feel the security in airports is better now, so they aren't as worried about flying now."
"We've had a number that are taking reservations," Paterson said. "They are still comfortable with air travel, and we have been getting new business over the past few days from people who still want to fly."
While many people may still feel safe on airplanes, it will become harder to book flights in light of operational cutbacks by many national airlines.
Delta will run only 75 percent of its normal flights, and American, Continental, Northwest and United will fly only 80 percent of their regular schedules.
Paterson said the cuts have only added to the complexity of booking tickets for passengers.
"The biggest part of my job right now is just trying to find accurate information from the airlines about their updated schedules and refund plans," Paterson said. "I would say I spend about a quarter of my day just trying to find information and relay that to customers wondering if their flight will take off as planned or not."
Paterson also said the airline industry would suffer over the next few weeks, as the impact of four days of no or limited service will take its toll on everyone associated with the business.
"In the near future, it's going to hurt the airline industry," Paterson said, "and I think they all realize that. That's why you've seen the reduction in scheduled flights across the country, and in smaller markets like Des Moines and Omaha, jets that hold only 50 passengers will fly into the airport rather than those that can hold 100 or more. It's just going to take a few weeks to get back up to a normal level."
The cutbacks by the airlines will also affect both Orange Tree Travel and Nomad Travel Agency, and Magnussen said it will take some time before travel agencies across the country resume operations at a pace seen before last Tuesday.
"It really depends on security, and how safe people feel in airplanes," Magnussen said. "I think many people feel safe here in the Midwest. If they don't have to leave, then they'll just stay here at home."