TORONTO — Travellers are never more thankful for their travel agent than when their flight plans get disrupted by a storm. A number of Travel Leaders Network agents have tales from the front lines after re-booking clients in the midst of Winter Storm Toby.
Toby hit hardest in the U.S. last week although plenty of Canadian gateways (and Canadian travel agents and clients) were impacted as well, with Canadian carriers including Air Canada and WestJet issuing travel alerts for more than a dozen cities in Eastern Canada and the U.S. Northeast. The severe winter weather resulted in more than 5,000 flight cancellations.
Here’s a roundup of what some Travel Leaders Network agents in the U.S. were dealing with…
- Philip Overton, a Travel Leaders travel agent based in Dallas, TX, had a client who was traveling from Tel Aviv to Jacksonville, FL by way of JFK airport in New York. Courtesy of Winter Storm Toby, the JFK to Jacksonville leg was cancelled. “He was already on the plane from Tel Aviv, set to land in New York at 5 a.m. when we realized his next flight was cancelled,” said Overton. “While he was still in the air, we found him a nonstop flight leaving the next day. We booked it and then called his son who contacted a family member in New York City who could put his father up for the night. When our client started receiving text messages while still on the plane from Tel Aviv, we explained the situation to him.” Overton’s team also stayed in contact with the airline. In the end, the airline was able to get his client on a same-day flight to Orlando. “His wife picked him up by car, and they drove from there to Jacksonville. The next morning, he contacted us to express his tremendous appreciation.”
- Anne Jasper with Travel Leaders Destinations Unlimited in Cedar Rapids, IA, relayed the story of a long-standing corporate client who had booked flight arrangements on his own using mileage, but requested assistance from the agency once the weather affected his plans: ”He is a very good customer and called us for help as he was trying to find a way to get to White Plains, N.Y. We determined that flights were operating into Stewart International Airport, which is about an hour away from where he needed to be and rebooked him. He made it and arrived into the alternate airport without issue.” Jasper added that she advises her clients to feel free to check with them at any time to see if the airlines have issued a special waiver code that allows them to process refunds or rebook flights without penalty. “We understand that many travellers were impacted by this storm and availability can be very limited during the rebooking process. If they have to travel, flexibility is key, as we will check alternate airports and incorporate train travel for East Coast clients, when necessary.”
- Dana Young, a Travel Leaders agent in Dundee, IL, just outside of Chicago, said that when Chicago was hit recently with about eight inches of snow, it was during the Chicago Auto Show. The agency had booked travel arrangements for a number of individuals to attend. One particular client’s return flight was cancelled and Young needed to get him an extra hotel night. The hotel was officially sold out but Young, who always stays on site during the Auto Show, was able to use her well-established relationship with the property to get the extra room night for her client.
- Lee McCarthy with MAD Travel / Travel Leaders in Naples, FL described how his agency proactively reviews travel plans among his clients when severe weather is approaching. “As soon as we receive notifications of impending weather or other types of issues, we have our systems check for all affected or possibly affected travellers and then notify each of them of their options and rebook them to other dates or times and stand ready to assist if they decide to go with their original plans.”
David Fishman, of Travel Leaders Cadillac Travel in the Detroit area, advises that whether it is a weather delay or some other unforeseen circumstance affecting a traveller’s plans, it is easier and more convenient to let your travel advisor take care of changing your itinerary. “If you reach out directly to an airline during times like one of the Nor’easters, you are going to be on hold for two or three hours trying to get your flight changed. And if you booked online, some of those places you can’t even call, you can only email. If you work with a travel professional, however, you leave that work to us and we will get it done quickly.”