Eiffel Tower closed, travel plans impacted by Paris attacks

Story highlights

  • Some travelers planning visits to Paris are weighing the risks and rewards of going through with trips
  • After terror attacks left the city on high alert, some airlines are offering travel refunds
  • Travel personality Rick Steves urges travelers "not to let the terrorists win by being terrorized"

(CNN)Jessica Thon-Ralph was excited to show her 15-year-old son the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, Louvre and other "supercool" landmarks during a trip to Paris next weekend.

Thon-Ralph and her family are living in Troisdorf, Germany, for two months while her husband completes work training. It would be their first chance to travel around Europe together before returning home to San Diego.
Now their trip is up in the air after Friday's multiple terror attacks across Paris, causing tourist attractions such as the Eiffel Tower to close.
    Flights and rail connections to Paris and the rest of France are operating. There is a large military and police presence on the ground in the capital.
    French President Francois Hollande has declared a national state of emergency and three days of mourning.
    This climate has stoked Thon-Ralph's concern for her family's safety.
    "We don't want to panic and cancel everything when it is so fresh, but it is definitely on our minds," Thon-Ralph said in an email. "The worst thing we can do is to live in fear, that will give 'them' what they want, right? But, we have to be smart for the sake of our family."
    She and her husband, John, haven't decided yet whether they'll go through with their holiday. The family's travel is booked and they've paid for a flat on Airbnb, so they could lose money if they decide to cancel, a situation in which countless travelers find themselves.
    "If we do cancel, there will be fees, but peace of mind and safety is worth more to us," she said.

    Landmarks closed to the public

    Thon-Ralph and her family wanted to visit the typical tourist spots, but knowing that some of them are closed is causing her to reconsider the practicality of the trip, too.
    Indeed, the Eiffel Tower was shuttered Saturday and will remain closed till further notice, its official website said.
    Disneyland Paris closed and will remain so through Tuesday as part of France's national mourning period.
    "We mourn those lost to the horrific attacks in Paris. We pray for the injured and we hold them all in our hearts," said a statement from Tom Wolber, President of Euro Disney S.A.S, posted on the park's website.
    The Paris Convention and Visitors Bureau has posted museum and monument closures and openings on its site.
    Travelers are being warned that border controls have tightened and movement throughout the city may be restricted.
    "We strongly urge U.S. citizens to maintain a high level of vigilance, be aware of local events, and take the appropriate steps to bolster their personal security, including limiting their movements to essential activity," the U.S. Embassy in Paris said on its website. "U.S. citizens are encouraged to monitor media and local information sources and factor updated information into personal travel plans and activities."
    Airports in France remain open, and airlines are still flying to and from Paris, though some carriers reported canceled flights. United Airlines is among several airlines that are offering to waive change fees for passengers whose travel is affected by the attacks. Travelers are advised to check with their airlines for the latest on any fee waiver information.
    The Eurostar rail service is operating as normal, though passengers are being advised to allow for additional time to check in and complete security checks.
    Airbnb is encouraging its hosts to extend travelers' stays free of charge and offering to waive some fees. More details here.
    "If you are able, we hope you will strongly consider helping those who are in need by making your listing available at little or no cost," the accommodation-sharing service said to its hosts and their guests. "Also, if you're an Airbnb host in Paris and your Airbnb guest is experiencing travel delays as they try to leave Paris, you can allow your guest to extend their stay for free."
    It's unclear whether travelers with trips booked farther down the line will be able to take advantage of similar discounts and refunds.

    'We're never truly safe, but we always have to live'

    Gary Leff never seriously considered canceling his plans to visit Paris with his wife in early January after hearing about the attacks.
    The Austin, Texas, couple likes to travel to France in the wintertime to avoid big tourist crowds and prefers simply to wander the city enjoying the food, wine and atmosphere rather than visit big attractions.
    It will be their fourth trip to Paris in six years. They booked their stay at the Park Hyatt a few weeks ago.
    An avid traveler, Leff writes about frequent flier deals for a travel blog. He took to the blog, View from the Wing, on Saturday to explain "Why I'm Still Going to Paris."
    "Could there be follow-on attacks?" Leff wrote. "Of course, though I'm not sure the risk of that is any greater today than it was yesterday. Indeed, in some sense the risks may be lessened because there are now fewer people in Paris aiming for such an attack than there were yesterday, by virtue of their having completed it."
    Leff has seen the aftermath of terrorism firsthand: His commute to work took him past the site of the September 11, 2001, attack on the Pentagon. He remembers the streets teeming with military and the pervasive fear.
    "It made the risk very real, made it hit home, and made it clear you were a target," he said in a phone interview.
    But Leff, who works as CFO for a university research center, said fear of more attacks won't rule his decision-making.
    "We're never truly safe, but we always have to live."

    To go or not to go

    Travel personality Rick Steves posted a message on his blog and Facebook encouraging travelers not to avoid Paris. Steves called the shootings and bomb attacks on Friday night an "isolated incident."
    "There's an important difference between fear and risk. ... I believe we owe it to the victims of this act not to let the terrorists win by being terrorized," he wrote.
    Steves recalled past attacks in popular tourist destinations like the 2004 train bombing in Madrid that killed 191 and injured more than 1,800 and the 2005 train and bus bombings in London that killed 52 and injured more than 700.
    "These societies tightened their security, got the bad guys, and carried on. Paris will, too," Steves wrote.
    Katie, who lives in Belgium and declined to use her last name due to safety concerns, booked a December trip to Paris just hours before the Friday attacks. She still looks forward to Christmas shopping at the famous Parisian markets, sightseeing at the catacombs and heading outside the city to tour Versailles with her family.
    "The goal of a terrorist is to create fear and pandemonium. It gives them the feeling of ultimate power and control," she wrote in a message. "The creation of that fear and the question of where or when an attack may happen again prevents many people from living their daily lives. I refuse to live that way."
    However, each traveler must decide for himself or herself how much risk is too much, and whether unease is reason enough not to travel.
    "There is always that thought when you travel, especially when you have children and when you go to new and unknown places. It is now more upfront in our minds, for sure," Thon-Ralph said. "Do I feel that it will happen again next weekend? I don't believe so. Unfortunately, there are the 'what ifs' that are nagging at me."