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Post-Katrina Gas Price Spikes Unlikely to Affect Travel Plans<P>By Micheline Maynard
and Christopher Elliott THE NEW YORK TIMES <P>

Post-Katrina Gas Price Spikes

Unlikely to Affect Travel Plans

By Micheline Maynard
and Christopher Elliott

The Labor Day holiday offers the last chance for a summer fling, and there is every sign that millions of travelers will take to the highways and the skies this weekend.

But soaring gasoline prices in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and fears over supplies of gasoline are causing travelers to calculate how much the trip will cost by car, whether it is cheaper to fly and how easy it will be to fill up along the way.

A few travelers are canceling their Labor Day trips, while others are reconsidering the vacations they plan to take this fall. That is bad news for innkeepers, hotel chains, rental car companies and airlines, for whom the fall is traditionally a slow season until Thanksgiving arrives.

A drop in business among price-conscious travelers will spell trouble for an industry that was finally recovering from the plunge in travel after the September 2001 attacks. And it is an even bigger worry for the struggling airline industry, faced with the possibility of dwindling fuel supplies in weeks to come, coupled with the need to pass along the significantly higher cost of jet fuel.

This weekend, at least, plenty of people are on the highways. Labor Day weekend is primarily a driving holiday, albeit less so than other big summer weekends. About 28.8 million travelers will be on the road this weekend, according to the American Automobile Association, while about four million people will fly.

The number of air travelers and motorists are both up slightly from 2004, said Montill Williams, a spokesman for AAA. He said 30 million drivers are on the roads during the Thanksgiving holiday period, the busiest time of the year for car travel.

This year there is a common concern among motorists: the spiraling cost of fuel.

“Everybody’s thinking about gas,” said John Frenaye, the director of business development at the Capital Travel Center, a travel agency based in Annapolis, Md. “When’s it going to stop?”

Faced with the cost of filling up the car, paying for a hotel room and meals for the weekend, he said, “I wouldn’t be surprised if people canceled their trips.”

In fact, the 11-room Inn at New Berlin, Pa., has already seen three sets of guests cancel reservations for Friday, including a couple from North Carolina who called off their trip because of high gas prices, the inn’s owner, Nancy Showers, said Thursday.