"While most travelers were trying to get through to their airlines, I was sitting at my computer rescheduling and rerouting our clients." That's what a travel agent I know told me about coping with the disruptions of Hurricane Ike. And it raises again the issue of why — despite the Internet — so many travelers continue to rely on travel agents. Maybe you should think about doing the same.
Last year, I did a column about travel agents, explaining why many travelers — especially those who are not online — are better off using an agent than trying to make arrangements by phone. Then, I placed "assistance in a pinch" fifth in my list of reasons.
Now, I see two reasons for placing it at or near the top:
When something goes wrong — either before you leave or when you're already on your trip — a travel agent is your best source of help. Whether it's an airline snafu or a natural disaster, you often have to rebook flights, accommodations and other travel arrangements. When you have advance notice, as in the case of a permanent schedule change, you could probably do your own rescheduling. But chances are an agent could do a quicker and better job than you could.
Agent support is even more important in a last-minute problem. Those are the times when you'll probably find it almost impossible to reach an overloaded reservation phone line or work your way through a long line at an understaffed airport counter. Instead, a quick call will get an agent working on your case immediately. These days, most good travel agencies either have their own 24/7 staffing or a cooperative arrangement with another agency that provides backup for them.
Beyond assistance in a pinch, my earlier listing of travel agent advantages remains valid:
If you decide to use a travel agent, my suggestion is that you use the agent for all your travel needs, not just when you think you might face a hurricane or blizzard. The more a travel agent knows about your personal preferences, the better job he/she can do for you. And although agents don't slack on any customer, I suspect that good, steady clients get more attention than the once-every-five-year types. If you like to check trip details out on the Internet, that's fine: Just tell the agent what you've found. But if you're not online, an agent is about the only way you can come even close to finding your best deals.
By Ed Perkins Tribune Media Services
Article Launched: 09/25/2008 12:04:32 PM PDT