Industry turns thumbs down on travel

Routine air travel has been suspended indefinitely among U.S. automakers and major suppliers accustomed to traveling the globe on business.

Last week many companies suspended or severely limited business travel as the Federal Aviation Administration grappled with ensuring passenger safety in an era of terrorism.

Air travel at Detroit Metropolitan Airport, used heavily by auto executives, is bound to change, say industry experts. Processing the 35 million annual departures and arrivals at Detroit Metro - the world's 16th-largest airport in terms of passenger travel - will slow as security is tightened.

Kevin Mitchell, president of the Business Travel Coalition in Radnor, Pa., which represents businesses on aviation issues, predicts more security and stiffer requirements for security personnel. More sophisticated scanning equipment to better spot weapons will follow.

Armed guards, bomb-sniffing dogs, an end to curbside luggage checking and other measures will add to security, but at a cost, experts say.

New policies

Among policies enacted by auto companies:

n General Motors last week suspended all international travel and prohibited travel to the Middle East. The automaker said employees away from home on business may remain where they are or choose to return home by the means they deem safest, at company expense.

GM is discouraging all travel within North America and continental Europe.

  • Ford Motor Co., as part of its cost-cutting measures, restricted business travel to "critical business needs and emergencies" this year. Additionally, employees who are reluctant to fly may address their concerns with their supervisor. Decisions will be made case by case.

  • Chrysler group is allowing only essential travel.

  • Robert Bosch Corp. has suspended all travel until further notice.

  • Dana Corp. has banned all air travel.

  • Johnson Controls Inc. is urging employees "to make intelligent decisions about whether travel is required or whether alternatives and delays are possible." The supplier also has launched an Intranet site giving employees updates on travel airline-by-airline, FAA requirements and new security measures.

  • TRW Inc. has advised employees to use their judgment about when it is feasible to travel.

    Glimpse of future

    Last week, auto industry consultant Jerry Barefoot got a glimpse of the new era of business travel. He was caught at Chicago's O'Hare Airport Tuesday, Sept. 11, when the nation's airports were locked down, stranding thousands of travelers.

    Barefoot, a principal with Barefoot Cramer & Associates LLC of Birmingham, Mich., was in an airport meeting room with investors planning auto industry acquisitions. Airport authorities warned all travelers to evacuate because security could not be guaranteed.

    "There wasn't a rental car available in the Midwest," said Barefoot, who lined up with hundreds of others at Chicago's Union Station to book passage on a train. "Here were guys who knew their way around every airport in the nation trying to figure out how to use a train."

    Staff Reporters , and contributed to this report

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