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With travel, it's catch as catch can

Rental firms and bus and train stations are swamped with calls from people who want to get home - now.


© St. Petersburg Times,
published September 13, 2001

[Photo: AP]
With Chicago's two major airports closed, a tired passenger rests Wednesday at the Greyhound bus station as others wait in long lines for tickets.
Gina DiGennaro had taken a vacation from her job at the New Yorker Hotel in Manhattan to surprise a friend in the bay area with tickets to Tuesday night's Janet Jackson concert.

But the terrorist attack changed everything. The concert was canceled. And now DiGennaro is having trouble getting back to her home in Teaneck, N.J.

"Now I just want to get home," DiGennaro, 30, said Wednesday.

Locally and nationally, car rental agencies, bus lines and train stations said they have been swamped with calls from people who want the same thing: to get home and to get there quickly.

Travel providers are quick to reassure customers they are still operating. But they warn delays are possible as many agencies feel the crunch from grounded airline passengers seeking immediate alternatives.

"We're handling it but we're extremely busy and it's just starting," said Renee Rafalski, a Greyhound agent at the Dr. M.L. King (Ninth) Street N office in St. Petersburg. "Both of the phones are ringing off the hook."

Greyhound temporarily closed 30 terminals nationwide, including some in the Tampa Bay area, late Tuesday. Kristin Parsley, a Greyhound spokeswoman, said all but New York's Port Authority location have reopened.

"We are taking people as far as Newark, N.J., then the trains are running them in the rest of the way," Parsley said.

For some, the buses were a better bet than car rental agencies where customers failed to return their cars and airport security prevented suppliers from delivering automobiles that were available. Budget Rent A Car recordings greeted customers with the warning that while they would try to honor reservations, they could not guarantee availability.

"We have some 140,000 vehicles across the United States," company spokeswoman Kimberly Mulcahy said Wednesday, but lines are still long in some spots.

Some grounded airline passengers decided to rent cars. "I'm not flying anywhere for a while if it's a big plane," said Lynne Swaine, an HIV health educator for the Pinellas County Health Department who rented a car to get to the U.S. Conference on AIDS in Miami.

Amtrak officials said they are operating with a heightened sense of security but delays are minimal despite a 50-percent rise in customers nationwide.

"We are honoring airline tickets," said spokeswoman Kathleen Cantillon. "A lot of our trains are full or sold out -- even after we've added cars."

DiGennaro ended up waiting for a 30-hour Greyhound bus ride Wednesday.

"I had a plane ticket, then I had an Amtrak ticket ... but I didn't want to wait so here I am," said DiGennaro who was eager to be with family. But even when she returns, "I can't go back to work. It looks like Manhattan is missing its front teeth. It's just heartbreaking."

-- Staff writer Chris Tisch and Jean Heller contributed to this report.

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