The Johns Hopkins Gazette: October 8, 2001
October 8, 2001
VOL. 31, NO. 6


Travel Travails

JHU's frequent fliers cope with cancellations, delays and uncertainty

By Greg Rienzi
The Gazette

Johns Hopkins Gazette Online Edition

The reservations had been booked, the itinerary set. Joanne Katz, a professor in the Bloomberg School of Public Health, was to leave for Nepal on Sept. 28 with two of her colleagues to initiate a nutrition-focused research project. However, about 10 days before the departure date, Katz began having second thoughts.

During the first week after the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, Katz says, thoughts of Nepal and research became secondary. In addition to the initial shock felt by many Americans, Katz also had to contend with the near loss of her younger brother, who evacuated in time from a building adjacent to the World Trade Center. When the reality of her impending trip became unavoidable, Katz wondered if getting on a plane and traveling to southern Asia was the right thing for her to do. In the end, she decided it wasn't.

In the Johns Hopkins Travel Center on the JHMI campus, agent Priscilla Dulin works on travel plans with postdoc Mrinal K. Bhattacharyya. Since Sept. 11, the office has been "a madhouse."

"Everybody has a slightly different slate of concerns and comfort level in regard to the issue of air travel these days," says Katz, whose primary appointment is in the Department of International Health. "I think air travel is pretty safe; I wasn't too concerned about that. But I have two small children and elderly parents. I felt I would stress out all those people unnecessarily in trying to travel at this point in time. My kids know what is going on--they are 4 and 8 years old--and they don't like it when I travel anyway."

As for Katz's colleagues, one opted to postpone her departure for a month; the other left on schedule.

Decisions concerning business-related travel are being made similarly by faculty and staff across all divisions of the Johns Hopkins Institutions, whose annual expenditures for travel-related services exceed $30 million.

Gary Ostrander, associate dean for research in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, says the impact of the terrorist attacks on the airline industry and concerns about the stability of certain countries have left some faculty members scrambling to readdress their travel plans. Right now, he says, he's noticing a wait-and-see attitude.

"My sense, from talking to faculty, is that they are pushing things back a couple of months in regard to meetings, conferences or giving a seminar somewhere," Ostrander says. "I don't think it's a lack of confidence in air travel. It's more a fear of being away when the other shoe drops, whether it's another type of terrorist attack, or when the U.S. government may do something militarily. They don't want to be on the other side of the country, or the world for that matter, if something starts to heat up."

Ostrander says he thinks it's reasonable to expect that in the first 60 days after an attack such as this that a lot of significant conferences and meetings involving university personnel will be postponed or canceled. He says that has certainly proven true up until now.

"But after the first 60 days, my guess is life will slowly begin to return to normal, and we will get on with the business at hand," Ostrander says.

Paul Beyer, whose Purchasing Office oversees university travel services, says personal concerns are not the only reason why some are opting not to travel. Several government agencies, he says, are asking or recommending that researchers for the time being reduce or postpone travel to certain foreign locations. "A lot of the research our people do is in remote parts of the world, small countries in Asia and Africa that they wouldn't want to be stranded in," he says.

Beyer says that while some companies have recently issued blanket policies restricting travel, Hopkins has not.

"We don't operate as a corporation," Beyer says. "Travel decisions will be made more on an individual basis."

Nowhere, perhaps, are the altered plans of business travelers more evident than at the new Johns Hopkins Travel Center on the JHMI campus, which services the broader university and health system. Described by one travel agent there as being "a madhouse" since Sept. 11, the center is operated by WorldTravel BTI, which since August has served as the primary travel services partner for the Johns Hopkins Institutions.

Wendy Booma, WorldTravel's account manager for Hopkins, says that during the first two weeks after the attacks, agents worked overtime to handle a slew of cancellations and requests to reschedule flights. Also, several Hopkins personnel who were stranded away from home called searching for the next available return flight. While bookings have increased in the past week, Booma says there is a whole new set of variables to consider, such as airlines not flying to some smaller domestic and international markets due to lack of demand.

"We have had to be creative," Booma says. "We are certainly not at the capacity we were before in terms of moving people all over the world. What we are doing is seeking out the best itinerary for everyone, doing what we can to meet individual travelers' needs."

Liz Brown, operations manager of the Hopkins Travel Center at JHMI, says that given the current uncertainty as to the availability of flights, some travelers might have to rethink how they schedule business appointments--"to make the reservations first and then schedule the appointments, rather than vice versa," she says. "But that, of course, is not always possible."

Liz Brown, operations manager of the Johns Hopkins Travel Center at JHMI, helps Diane Davenport, an emergency room nurse, reschedule personal travel plans.

For those who are deciding to travel, Booma says agents are addressing safety concerns and making sure they follow the new FAA and airline guidelines.

"We encourage people to call us or stop in to one of our offices so they can plan ahead and know what to expect at the airport," Booma says.

APL's Roland Catalano, who oversees the Johns Hopkins Travel Center at the Lab's campus in Laurel, Md., says that while he has no hard numbers in terms of recent airline bookings, he knows the figures plunged after the attacks and he is noticing people opting to drive to destinations to which they would usually fly. In some cases, to the extreme.

"I know of some staff members who had to go to California on business and have elected to drive cross country," Catalano says.

Before Sept. 11, Catalano says, his office was dealing on average with 40 airline bookings per business day, 95 percent of which involved flights out of BWI airport.

"We are starting to creep back up to those numbers," Catalano says. "Every day I sense a little bit more confidence. I think people are deciding it's better to just get on with the work."

For faculty engaged in activities overseas, travel-related concerns are particularly acute, according to Keith West, a professor in the Bloomberg School's Department of International Health and manager of a large federal grant that funds faculty travel across divisions of the department. West, himself a frequent traveler, says faculty and students currently overseas, or intending to go, have been advised to stay abreast of current events and to be in contact with the local U.S. embassy. West says the option to postpone research, depending on the circumstances, is also available.

"Hopkins has a research presence in many parts of the globe. Bangladesh. Nepal. Indonesia. Zambia. The list is a long one. Everyone here understands the really important research projects going on in these places where life does go on," West says. "We have to make our travel decisions with due caution and a mature outlook with respect to weighing the job demands and real or perceived risks. You can't just put down a policy and expect it to apply to all travel conditions. The level of risk varies with the country. For those who decide they need to go, we have advised them to stay in touch and act accordingly."

West's next scheduled trip abroad is to Bangladesh in December to conduct nutritional research involving intervention trials of vitamin A. He says he plans to leave "right on schedule."

Letter from the Provost

On Oct. 4, Provost Steven Knapp sent the following letter to faculty, staff and students:

The State Department has issued a statement expressing concern about the security of U.S. citizens overseas and urging Americans to take precautions to protect themselves when engaged in international travel.

This "worldwide caution" is available on the State Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs Web site at The bureau's home page, at also links to information released by the State Department on travel to specific countries.

The university urges international travelers to monitor the* Bureau of Consular Affairs Web site for new information. We encourage you to pay careful attention to these recommendations and to take them into account when forming your travel plans.