MOULTRIE -- Despite the tragedies of Sept. 11 and breaches of airport security since, a surprising number of Americans are taking to the airways and getting some great deals on airfares.

Bill Chesnutt, a travel agent for Travel Professionals in Moultrie, said he recently booked two people for less than $200 each for flights from Jacksonville, Fla., to Portland, Ore.

"As long as people can be flexible on the dates they wish to travel, they can certainly catch some great deals," Chesnutt said.

Many travel agencies and airlines have been offering up some exceptional bargains in efforts to get the economy jump-started and get people out of their houses and traveling.

"It was pretty slow there for a while, but it's starting to pick back up," said Debbie Saeger, a travel agent in Valdosta.

Saeger mentioned that one of her best deals is a $495 cruise to Bahamas accommodating two for four-nights.

And although airport security has been brought under the microscope lately, many have faith that airlines are safe enough for them and loved ones to fly.

Chesnutt, who's been in the travel business for over 30 years, trusts airport security despite the negative image the media has painted.

"I am concerned (about safety), and I do think some additional security measures could be taken, but I'm confident enough to send my wife and daughter to New York on an airplane," he said.

Kathryn Lowe, a retired schoolteacher who plans to fly to Key West after the new year, thinks airline safety is better than ever.

"People are more alert and are conscious of things around them," she said.

Lowe added that she believes luggage is checked more thoroughly and that more checkpoints also make her safe when traveling by air.

Julia Johnston, who travels on a regular basis for work, echoes Lowe in saying that she feels safer than ever when flying.

"I've flown four times since (the terrorist attacks), and I've noticed that airports are screening carry-on luggage more thoroughly," she said. "I do pay more attention to my surroundings now."

Johnston added that she will not board a plane if several Middle Eastern men are on the same flight as her unless she knows the airport has thoroughly checked them out.

"I've talked with several other passengers who do the same thing. Once we were on a plane with a Middle Easterner and had made plans to attack him if he started towards the cockpit," Johnston said.

To make travelers feel even safer when flying, the government will tighten airport security, including more air marshals and tougher requirements for baggage screeners, thanks to a security bill that passed last month.

-- By Kevin Liles

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