IBM Advises Employees to Use Foreign Airlines : FAA's Terrorist Alert Prompts Computer Giant to Issue Warning on Travel From Europe, Middle East

Times Staff Writer

IBM, the computer industry giant, has advised its employees to travel on non-U.S. airlines from Europe and the Middle East in reaction to a terrorist alert issued by the Federal Aviation Administration.

IBM spokesman Edward Stobbe said the warning was issued to the company's 389,000 employees Thursday. He said it was "very rare" for IBM to issue such a travel alert and that the company did so only because the threat of danger to employees seemed especially high.

The IBM warning remains in effect until the end of April. However, employees "make their own travel plans and can chose to ignore it," Stobbe said.

IBM's warning was by far the most dramatic response to a warning from the FAA that three Lebanese-Palestinians might attempt to hijack an American airliner in Europe. The FAA alert was issued secretly to airlines last week, but it became public after it was disclosed in a London newspaper. The FAA issues about 30 such warnings a year.

Travelers Seem Unperturbed

Travel industry executives said Friday that IBM's action was highly unusual, and no other large corporation contacted by The Times said it planned similar steps.

"It's not our style to issue monolithic announcements to our 100,000 employees worldwide," said John Maloney, a spokesman for Citicorp in New York.

Chevron, the big San Francisco oil company, said it left travel decisions up to its managers. "They check with our travel office and our security office about the safety of a particular area," spokesman Michael Libby said. "If they decide they need to make the trip, they go."

Most travelers seemed to take the terrorist alert in stride Friday. At the British Airways terminal in Los Angeles International Airport, a Dutch businessman waiting for his flight home, shrugged. "What should we do? We're here, and we have to go back sometime."

Irish businessman Bill Duggan also was philosophical about the danger. "If it's going to happen, it's going to happen," he said. "I've been here five weeks, and I want to go home." Duggan said he felt safer because he was flying on a non-U.S. carrier.

A number of travel agents interviewed Friday said that a small number of customers had asked to have their trips booked on foreign carriers, which apparently were not included in the terrorist threat. "But I have someone who wants to fly on Pan Am to Europe because they think now it is very, very safe," said Francis Goranin, owner of Vega International Travel in Chicago.

Pan American World Airways said it has taken steps to improve security since the bombing of a New York-bound Pan Am flight from London. The tragedy last December killed all 259 persons aboard and 11 others in the small Scottish village of Lockerbie where the plane crashed.

Pan Am and two other U.S. airlines said they had received a small number of flight cancellations Friday, apparently from customers nervous about the terrorist threats. "It's nothing dramatic. Nothing we can even quantify," said Jeffrey Krindler, a Pan Am vice president.

Trans World Airlines and American Airlines also said they had received cancellations, but both added that the vast majority of passengers seemed unconcerned. American Airlines clerks received "very, very few calls from nervous passengers," airline spokesman Don Bedwell said.

Spokesman for other U.S. airlines that fly to Europe could not be reached since their offices were closed for Good Friday.

Travel agents said airline passengers have become hardened to terrorist threats to some degree. "My clients are not excited about threats of this type anymore," Goranin said. "It seems you hear a lot of threats, and nothing ever happens. I think 99.9% of those calls are crank calls, anyway."

No Financial Impact

Susan Kaplan, owner of Martin's Travel in West Los Angeles, said business travelers seem especially indifferent to terrorist threats. "These people travel day in and day out," she said. "If they sat and worried about it all the time, they'd be nervous wrecks."

Few travel agents expected the alert to have any impact on the European travel season, which normally runs from June through late August. Jack Ramsen, owner of International Tours in Austin, Texas, said European travel business is heavier this year than last year.

"If I had to predict, my instincts as an agent tell me that people will make no major changes (in their travel plans) because of this," said Richard Copland, owner of Hillside Travel in the Bronx.

Times staff writer Michael Ybarra in Los Angeles contributed to this story.

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