Katrina's lingering effects felt throughout the travel industry
The Washington Post
Hurricane Katrina's lingering effects continue to reverberate throughout the travel industry.
• Expect to pay more for limo and taxi services as gas prices surge. "Companies ... are trying to get either a fare increase or a per-trip fuel surcharge," said Harold Morgan of the Taxicab, Limousine and Paratransit Association.
Fuel surcharges automatically kick in when gas prices hit specific levels in a few cities, such as Seattle, where a 50-cent surcharge is set to double if gas prices stay above $2.90 for 14 days. Other public officials reacted quickly: Memphis, for example, added a $2 per trip surcharge; Montgomery County, Md., added $1.50 to each fare. Increases in some cities will lag as taxi commissions consider requests. In D.C. for example, a $1 fuel surcharge expired Aug. 31, but watch for something new when the commission meets in mid-September.
• Airlines teetering on the edge of bankruptcy — including Delta, Northwest and Independence — could be pushed over the edge by jet fuel prices that jumped as much as 47 cents per gallon after Katrina hit. That difference alone, if sustained, would add over $9 billion to the industry's annual fuel bill.
• United backed away last week from a price hike of $30 round trip on many fares after other airlines failed to match. At press time, most of the legacy carriers had increased some one-way fares by $5.
"That's like a Band-Aid on a gushing artery," said Terry Trippler, an airline expert who writes for Cheapseats.com. "I'm expecting to see a substantial price hike — $15 to $25 one way — this month," he said, adding that airlines might more discreetly raise revenue by decreasing the number of seats sold at rock-bottom fares.
• Three Carnival cruise ships scheduled to take tens of thousands of passengers around the Caribbean will instead house evacuees. Sensation and Ecstasy, which together hold 4,101, will dock in Galveston, Texas. The Holiday, which holds 1,452, will dock in Mobile, Ala.
Within two to four weeks, Carnival will process refunds to passengers booked to sail the Sensation through March 2 and to passengers scheduled to sail the Holiday through March 4. Ecstasy passengers are being switched to Elation. Elation passengers can get refunds or rebook a similar itinerary on the Conquest.
• Amtrak has indefinitely altered the routes of three trains: the City of New Orleans, the Crescent and the Sunset Limited. Details: www.amtrak.com.
• Passport applications from 14 states and Puerto Rico are processed at the New Orleans Passport Agency, closed indefinitely. A State Department team is assessing what's left in the damaged office and advises that some who applied for passports before Aug. 25 might have to reapply. Details: www.travel.state.gov; click on "passports."
Some of those applying for passports might have thought they needed them by Dec. 31 to travel by air or sea to Canada, the Caribbean, Bermuda or Central or South America. But implementation of the new law requiring passports for travel in the Western Hemisphere has been pushed back to Dec. 31, 2006 — and to Dec. 31, 2007, for border crossings by land.
• Many airlines are allowing frequent fliers to donate miles to victims of Katrina or relief workers, and some are giving bonus miles to customers who donate money to relief organizations. See airline Web sites for details.
Frequent-stay guests at various hotels can donate award points, which are converted into donations for relief efforts. Hilton, for example, will donate $25 to the American Red Cross for every 10,000 points; Best Western will donate $2 for every 50 frequent-stay points. Also, some hotels will award bonus points for donations, and InterContinental Hotels will match contributions. See hotel Web sites for details.
• Conventions in New Orleans are canceled through March 31. Some power is back at the convention center and some downtown hotels. The city's tourism Web site (www.neworleanscvb.com) noted last week that the exterior signage from hotels "flashed and brought much needed light as symbols of hope to the city's skyline."
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