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Troops in Iraq to Get Deals on Flights

September 30, 2003|From Associated Press

Major airlines are offering discounts to American troops on leave from duty in Iraq after the military's rest and relaxation program was criticized because it does not pay for the troops' travel inside the United States.

Under the first major R&R program since the Vietnam War, the government pays for flights from Iraq to Maryland, at which point the troops must pick up the tab for any domestic travel.

Before Delta Air Lines and Southwest Airlines this weekend began offering the troops special fares requiring no advance purchase, those put on leave with little notice were faced with expensive last-minute fares.

"What family can afford to pay $2,000 or more for a same-day plane ticket?" said Sherry Billups of Minnesota, whose husband, Steven Baazard, is a 15-year veteran of the National Guard.

Under the terms of discounts offered by Delta and Southwest, no advance purchase or minimum stay is required and the fares are refundable.

American Airlines, which since May had been offering troop discounts with three days' advance purchase, matched the competitors Monday.

Northwest Airlines on Monday said it matched the advance-purchase deal that was offered by American.

The carriers' discounts are good for travel between Baltimore-Washington International Airport, where troops have been arriving since last week, and anywhere else in the United States.

All the carriers are offering round-trip fares in the continental United States to troops and their dependents for less than $200.

Army spokesman Joe Burlas said more than 700 soldiers a day would be flying in and out of the country under the leave program. He said that in addition to Baltimore, the government would eventually begin flying soldiers to Atlanta, Dallas-Fort Worth and Los Angeles.

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