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Air travel is still a safe way to go

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Any disaster leaves a strong aftertaste. Last Tuesday's events, where four commercial airliners were hijacked, are no exception.

How can travelers deal with the aftermath in a way that doesn't damp their enthusiasm for flying?

Salt Laker Larry Gelwix suggests you do it by the numbers. "The initial shock overwhelms all of us, it's so horrific," he said. "But to make an informed decision, look at the safety record of air travel compared to the safety record of car travel. It's (air travel) the safest method of travel, and it will continue to be."

Jim Kimball, a senior vice president of Christopherson Business Travel, agrees. "The most dangerous part of any trip is getting from your home to the airport."

Tuesday's incident, he said, was the act of a rogue group that operates outside the law, that doesn't act rationally.

"There's always a risk in travel, but it's so slight," he said. "I always feel it's worth it. To cancel your plans only lets the terrorists win."

As a result of the incidents, flights were grounded around the country, leaving passengers stranded at airports and in cities that weren't their final destinations.

Although the nationwide airline shutdown was extraordinary, passengers will occasionally experience long delays under normal circumstances.

How can you minimize anxiety caused by a delay in your plans?

Gelwix, a regular guest on the KSL Radio Travel Show, offered these strategies for coping with airport downtime.

First, find out how long you'll be there. If the airline agent can't give you a definitive answer, you have no choice but to hang around the terminal.

In that case, ask the airline agent for a guest pass to the airline's courtesy lounge. "They have drinks, telephones, TVs. It's a better environment," said Gelwix. "If you ask when there aren't a lot of people around, they may give it to you."

If you don't have a membership, consider buying one. (Most airlines have members-only lounges at major airports.)

At the very least, ask the agent for a meal voucher. The worst thing he can do is say no.

Gelwix never leaves home without something to read. He's also resorted to the world's simplest form of exercise: walking. "On a big delay at LAX, I'll go outside and walk the horseshoe just for exercise."

If you're certain that you're staring at hours of idle time, look for diversions or attractions.

"The last thing I want to do is plunk myself down in those uncomfortable seats and sit there and stew," he said.

Gelwix recalled a six-hour delay in St. Louis. "I found out there's a large shopping mall about two or three miles from the airport. I took a taxi over. I saw a movie and had a nice meal."

Hop on a courtesy shuttle to a nearby hotel where you can relax in more comfortable surroundings and get a decent meal. "Hotel courtesy shuttles are a gold mine," he said.

Inquire about special rates from car rental companies. If the price is right, rent a car and see the sights. Last week Enterprise had a $9.99-a-day special, for example.

But even the most seasoned traveler could find himself stranded at an airport with nothing to do.

"The longest delay I have ever had other than a canceled flight was 13 hours," said Gelwix. "I was flying from New York to Frankfurt and we had an engine problem. We landed in Newfoundland and they had to bring in another plane. We landed at a military base, and none of my strategies worked."

E-mail: kclayton@desnews.com