Salt Lake City's slumbering travel industry was shaken up Thursday when several airlines announced fares slashed 50 percent.

"It's stirred things up a little bit," said Tom Jensen, manager of Jensen-Baron Travel."Corporate clients are really taking advantage of it. We had one client book trips three months in advance."

He said the agency has been calling clients alerting them of the fare cuts. "Hopefully it will get some momentum going."

It started with America West Airlines alerting travel agencies late Wednesday and then going public Thursday with full-page advertisements in the Deseret News and Salt Lake Tribune.

America West said it was trying to "jump start" the depressed air-travel industry by selling half-price tickets through Saturday to any of its destinations, for travel good through Jan. 5, 1992.

Other major airlines quickly responded throughout the day, either matching America West's offer on all flights or just at its major hubs in Las Vegas and Phoenix. Jensen said that Northwest Airlines has also offered half off on all its domestic flights, while United and Delta will offer the same deal on flights to and from Las Vegas and Phoenix.

"For Utahns that means if you want to fly to Las Vegas or Phoenix on Delta or United, you can do it for half the price," Jensen said.

American Airlines said Thursday evening it was expanding its own half-price sale beyond the territory where it competes with America West to all major cities on the East and West coasts.

Despite their quick response, the airlines as well as industry analysts and some local travel agents branded America West's move as a harmful fire sale that may generate some short-term cash but do nothing to resolve long-term problems plaguing the entire industry.

Industry analysts have said the airlines need to cut out some of their wild promotions to return to profitability. "It's good deal for the customer," Mark Daugherty at Dean Witter Reynolds Inc. told Associated Press. "It's another loss-generating fare program for the industry."

Before America West's surprise announcement, Northwest Airlines had planned a $15-per-ticket surcharge to take effect Friday to offset higher costs from the Persian Gulf war.

Fear of war-related terrorism has caused the latest drop in bookings for all the airlines. Some in the industry said they doubted the prospect of saving some money would persuade frightened travelers to fly.

But America West spokesman Dick Shimizu said the Phoenix-based airline did a similar promotion at its Phoenix hub in December and was so pleased by the response it decided to do it again.

He said the reduced fares will give America West a chance to show off its service and attract more faithful customers in the long term.

"We've received some nice compliments from travel agents who say they are doing more business than they have before," Shimizu said.