Although Swissair has decided to resume flights to the United States beginning Thursday afternoon, hundreds of Swiss travellers have cancelled or delayed their trips to the United States following Tuesday's terrorist attacks in New York and Washington. Travel experts said people are fearful of flying, or of further attacks.
Switzerland's big tour operators, including Kuoni and Hotelplan, have been swamped with calls from people trying to cancel, postpone or change their trips to the United States. Hotelplan has received more than 500 cancellations worldwide, 200 of them were flights to New York.
However, holidaymakers are not only worried about flying to North America. Peter Moser, branch manager of Kuoni in Langenthal, told swissinfo that one of his clients nearly cancelled his last minute flight to Egypt.
"We talked to him and advised him to wait and follow the news overnight. He rang again yesterday morning and told us that he would go ahead with his holiday in Egypt after all," Moser said.
Moser thinks the reason for his client's change of heart was that he became aware of the fact that the situation in the United States would probably not affect Egypt.
Because of the unprecedented circumstances, Kuoni and Hotelplan are easing ticketing restrictions, and offering free cancellations to a number of clients who had planned to travel to the United States. Kuoni is offering penalty-free cancellations to flights departing before September 17. For flights to Washington DC and New York, the company has extended the deadline to September 30.
Hotelplan, the second biggest tour operator in Switzerland after Kuoni, said it would offer free cancellations to all flights to the States until further notice.
Sabine Ingwersen of the communication and media department of Hotelplan, said her company had sympathy with its customers. "Our clients are scared and have no idea what will happen in the future. We fully understand this and are doing our best to find alternatives for them."
According to Moser, the events in America have triggered a new fear of flying among vactioners. One of his clients, who is travelling to London tomorrow, phoned to tell him he was very scared but did not want to cancel his flight.
"He wanted confirmation that it was not wrong to do this trip," he said. Moser thinks, that people travelling in one week's time or later should go ahead with their plans. "We are trying to convince them that it is alright to go because it would be wrong to lock yourself in now."
Early flights to the United States will serve passengers who were prevented from departing from the Zurich airport.
With the American airspace restricted by the Federal Aviation Administration, thousands of passengers travelling to the United States had been stranded at Swiss airports. Jean-Claude Donzel, spokesman for Swissair, told swissinfo they were trying to assist passengers with their bookings and cancellations.
To cope with the situation, Donzel said Swissair had introduced special measures, such as hotlines for air travel information. Information on Swissair flights is available at 0800 707 507.
"During the first two hours of Tuesday morning we did not deal with anything else but cancellations, rebookings and calming people down. In the afternoon we only had one or two cancellations, so things were calming down.
The United States is an important holiday destination for Swiss travellers. According to the Swiss-American chamber of commerce, 395,000 Swiss citizens visited the continent last year. Swissair daily operates 14 flights to the US and Canada.
Swissair has resumed flights to Israel, the airline said Thursday. Flights to Tel Aviv had been cancelled following the terrorist attacks in the United States.
Swissair has continued to cancel flights from Zurich to Beirut as well as to Libya and Lebanon. The cancellations were for "security reasons" the airline said.
by Billi Bierling