Following the Sept 11 terrorist attacks, many car rental companies froze rates and eased one-way rental restrictions and charges in an effort to help stranded travelers get back home. Call centers were deluged with one-way rental requests from travelers caught off-guard by the air traffic shutdown.

"This is an extremely painful time for the entire nation," said Karen Beard, president of National Car Rental’s North America operations, on the week of the attacks. "Thousands of travelers need one-way transportation, and we want to do our part to help them get to their destination as quickly and safely as possible."

National Car Rental and Alamo responded to the increased demand by offering a special one-way flat rate of $49.95. The special offer, available through Oct. 5, includes unlimited mileage. There are no drop-off fees or blackout days.

Similarly, in many metropolitan areas, Budget offered one-way rentals for as low as $49.99 per day, with unlimited mileage and no drop-off fees.

"All customers renting from a Budget corporate location and participating licensee locations with open rental contracts as of Tuesday, Sept. 11, will be allowed to return their cars to any U.S. Budget corporate location and participating licensee location without any additional drop-off fees or rate adjustments," said Budget Director of Public Relations Jennifer Sullivan during the week of the attacks.

Budget saw heightened demand for both local and one-way rentals immediately after the attacks, Sullivan said. A fleet and revenue management task force for the company closely monitored rental activity in order to coordinate returns and fleet distribution.

"In the aftermath of the bombing, our one-way business tripled," said Richard Fuller, a public relations executive at Avis. "Because of the increase in one-way rentals, many of our cars are out of position, but we are confident that in a short amount of time the distribution flow will even out."

Shortly after the terrorist attacks, Avis froze all rates, waived all drop-off charges and eliminated any mileage charges.

Through Oct. 15, Avis will offer lowered one-way rates available through its reservations center or Web site. Avis has also donated vehicles to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, offered several relief agencies use of rental vehicles to assist the rescue effort, and donated other items to New York rescue workers.

"We commend our colleagues in the airline industry for their efforts to get air transportation back on track," said Robert Salerno, president and COO of Avis Rent A Car System Inc. "Every since Sept. 11, we have been focused on doing everything possible to let Americans continue their professional and personal lives."

Dollar Rent A Car on Friday announced it has extended rate specials put in place the week of the attacks. Through Dec. 21, customers can request promotion code "USA" for compact cars at $19.99 a day, full-size cars at $29.99 a day, and SUV, luxury or minivan vehicles at $39.99 a day by reserving online or through the call center.

"Dollar immediately began offering special rates to displaced travelers after the tragedy on Sept. 11," said Gary Paxton, president of Dollar Rent A Car. "We determined it was important to expand the offers to assist our customers as they attempt to return to normal activities."

Meanwhile, car rental operations located at or near airports have seen utilization plummet. The public’s loss of confidence in air travel safety is starting to take a heavy toll, as Americans scale back travel plans and the airlines in turn announce layoffs and trim their flight schedules.