Mormons are being told to stay on the ground during the change from 1999 to 2000 “as a precaution,” according to a church spokesman.
“This is a precautionary measure only and may be subject to change in some parts of the world as developments unfold,” was the explanation given in an official statement issued by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
No LDS leaders, employees or missionaries will be in the air between Dec. 30 and Jan. 5 to avoid possible trouble resulting from the Y2K computer bug. The possibility of evacuating missionaries from some countries may be under consideration.
There are over 60,000 missionaries serving in virtually all parts of the world. Church leaders travel extensively to meet and worship with the more than 11 million members of the church, but for at least one week they will all have their feet firmly planted on the ground.
Although the State Department has issued travel warnings associated with concerns over Y2K, and an evacuation of over 800 State Department employees has been ordered from four countries, the LDS Church was not aware of the plans when questioned by WorldNetDaily.
“We do look at the State Department travel warnings, but frankly I don’t think anyone is aware of this (the evacuations),” said LDS Church spokesman Michael Purdy. Although he promised several times to respond to questions about evacuation plans for missionaries he has not done so.
“I’ll have to look into it,” is all Purdy would say. The LDS Church does have a generic set of evacuation plans in the event political dangers or natural disasters threaten missionaries.
“In view of lingering uncertainties as to the precise effect on air travel of the Y2K phenomenon, the church has instructed all employees and missionaries worldwide not to travel by air,” read the statement issued by the church and provided to WorldNetDaily.
Parents and relatives of missionaries have been contacting the LDS Church offices for weeks over concerns about flights during the first of the year. Church spokesman Dale Bills would not say if the calls had any influence on the decision to ban all flights.
LDS missionaries are trained in centers in various parts of the world. After they complete their training, including the learning of a new language when necessary, missionaries then fly to their assigned area where they serve without pay.
Missionaries also travel within the area they are serving on a regular basis. It is not known if the ban includes all public transportation or just airlines.
Brigham Young University, which is owned by the LDS Church, has issued a similar travel restriction for the same period.
BYU has placed a ban on air travel by staff and faculty, and is asking students to make a personal decision based on information they obtain from airlines and the Federal Aviation Authority.
Airlines have stated they have repaired any Y2K problems, and the Federal Aviation Administration claims they will also be ready. Despite the declaration that they are ready, most airlines have canceled flights for Dec. 31 and Jan. 1. This has caused a major problem for two prominent leaders dealing with Y2K preparedness.
In an effort to show confidence in the aviation system, Federal Aviation Administration director Jane F. Garvey promised the public that she would fly from the nation’s capital to California on New Year’s Eve.
Apparently she has more confidence in the system than the airlines do, because virtually every flight on that night has been grounded over concerns. The public has also shown a lack of confidence in flying during the rollover. The few flights still scheduled have less than 20 percent of their seats booked.
John Koskinen, director of the President’s Council on the Year 2000, has a similar problem. He wanted to take a shuttle flight from Washington to New York and then return to Washington in time to work at the bunker set up to house the President’s Council on the Year 2000 Information Coordination Center.
Koskinen can’t find a flight. The shuttles are all grounded. The airlines say it is because they can’t sell any tickets. Koskinen and Garvey appear to be the only ones who want to be in the air.
Airlines typically offer special deals on lower fares for those who are willing to fly on New Year’s Eve. In years past that has been enough to get people to fill up the flights. This year they can’t even give the seats away.
“Nobody wants to be in the air on New Year’s Eve,” said Frontier Airlines spokeswoman Elise Eberwein.
Koskinen has vowed to take a flight “one way or another.” He has not ruled out flying on New Year’s Day after the date change, but the public relations value of such a flight would be questionable.