Travel Agents Keep the Customers Moving While Delta Is Down

by Cheryl Rosen

Photo: Makaristos

Updated 8/11/16

There’s nothing like a worldwide airline glitch to show off why travelers should use a travel agent.

Delta set the stage with its systemwide outage that began on Monday and rippled through the following days. It stymied travelers trying to get home, to go on vacation, or to conduct business around the world.

But those who had a human travel agent to turn to found their way.

JB’s World Travel Consultants in New York, for example, had a client who absolutely had to be in Malta on Tuesday. Of course she was flying Delta. From Omaha, changing planes in Detroit. In business class. Using mileage.

Her first leg was delayed by hours, the second was canceled altogether. She called her travel agent.

“So what do we do? There are not many options to Malta,” JB president Jack Bloch told TMR.

JB found a solution flying through Charlotte and Rome—none of it on Delta—using mileage on American and Lufthansa. (Bloch said he will sort that all out later, with all the carriers involved.) But the Rome connection gave her just 80 minutes to collect her luggage and cross the airport, and Block was concerned she would not make it. So he arranged to have her luggage expedited, and then to have one meet-and-greet agent on the ground at the arrival gate, to help scoot her along, and another at the Air Malta gate, to make sure they did not close the door without her. The two agents kept in touch via cell phone.

“If they saw the gate was about to close, they would have delivered her and had the luggage put on a later flight,” Bloch said.

Bloch declined to cite the fee for his white-glove service, noting that “we don’t have a specific fee structure.” But while “our fees are not low,” the care he offered was priceless to the client, who absolutely had to be there by Tuesday. “Even if she could have gotten a seat and paid for it, it would have been almost impossible for her to get to Malta without us,” he said.

Meanwhile, at US Tours in Vienna, WV, Kim Walters had a couple on a four-night vacation in Cozumel, who missed their first day entirely due to flight delays, and so wanted to stay in Mexico for an extra day. While they sat by the pool, Walters went to work. When she called Delta she was told there was a hold time of 7 to 11 hours to speak with an agent, but Delta called her back in four hours and agreed to the switch, with no penalties or fees.

Said Walters, “My client is quite happy she didn’t have to deal with any of this and was able to enjoy her vacation (finally) while I did the work for her!”

Another agent, who asked that we not use her name, told of a corporate client stuck in Atlanta who has been trying since yesterday to get to Washington for a training program that began this morning. At this point, his boss is on the phone, underscoring that he must be there by 9 a.m. tomorrow without fail, so he can attend at least the second day of the training.

Traveling with a nonrefundable ticket to Washington Dulles, he was told there were no flights; his plan now is to fly to Richmond instead and drive from there. But his ticket has been changed so often in the past two days that it was “under airport control,” meaning not even a travel agent could change it; only Delta can reissue it. So our anonymous agent called a dedicated “Reissue Line” that Delta offers for travel professionals, which the client could not have accessed on his own. She finally got through to a Delta representative and had the ticket rerouted to Richmond, and the client was on his way.

At Creative Vacations, Michaela Moore had honeymoon clients scheduled to fly from Des Moines to Cozumel on Tuesday morning. "The flight from Des Moines was cancelled and the re-accommodation option was a double connection and an overnight in Mexico City. Nope!" she said. "We booked them a one-way flight on American with a single connection and they arrived only about an hour later than originally scheduled. We have submitted to Delta for a refund for the outbound flight and Delta protected them on their original return flight. The couple had no travel insurance but their honeymoon was saved!"

Meanwhile, TeleTravel in Philadelphia saw little fallout, as it had few customers on Delta. The only call VP Brian Clair fielded, at 7:30 a.m., was from a first-class passenger booked to Bozeman, MT, who seemed ready to pack it in and forget the family vacation to which she was headed. Clair advised her to wait a little while and see what happened, and sure enough, she was only delayed for about 40 minutes.

And in Tucson, Scott Katsinas of Katsinas Travel Consultants had a family of three attending a graduation at Auburn University. They were stuck in Atlanta when their connecting flight to Tucson was cancelled, and Delta's website listed no rebooking options to Tucson. Phoenix options were the next day, with double connections and 12-hour travel times.

While his clients waited in line at the airport, Katsinas reached Delta by phone and proposed a United connection via Denver, which Delta approved. But not satisfied, he continued to check for them, and eventually found nonstop seats to Phoenix. “That flight is three hours late, but at least my clients will come home today,” he said.

Unfortunately, their car is at the airport in Tucson. So yesterday he confirmed a Hertz car one-way (109 miles), and then, checking again today, confirmed a larger car at a better price with Alamo.

Katsinas is not happy for his clients. All affected Delta customers will receive $200 future travel vouchers, unlike Europe-originating passengers who will likely receive over $600 cash, due to E.C. rules, he noted. And most Delta vouchers must be used within one year, and only by the named traveler, so a non-frequent traveler unwilling to try Delta again within the next year may receive no compensation whatsoever.

Insurance plays a role

But other agents noted the important role that travel insurance can play in a situation like this.  

In Mansfield, Ohio, for example, Terri Berger-Davis at Berger Travel Agency, Inc., got a call from a client who was supposed to fly  Columbus to Calgary via Minneapolis on August 9 to join a Cosmos Tour of the Canadian Rockies with his family. The client had arranged his own on Delta to Calgary to avoid the agency’s service fee.  

He called in a panic wondering if he’d be able to leave. Delta.com showed his flights as operational, but the Columbus Ohio airport website showed it as cancelled. The hold time on the phone with Delta was over two hours. 

Even though he didn’t book his flight with her, Berger-Davis had booked his tour, “so I was glad to assist,” she said. She advised him to arrive at the airport “plenty early” to check in for the flight, an din the meantime confirmed back-up flights on United and contacted Travel Guard Insurance to make sure the client was protected under the “missed connection” clause. (They were.) 

Berger-Davis “told him if he got to the airport and found out the flight was cancelled or delayed he should first ask Delta to re-accommodate him on another flight, and if they were unable to do so, he should call me and I would issue the e-tickets for the alternate flight, and initiate a claim with Travel Guard.” 

Indeed, his flight was delayed 90 minutes, which would cause a misconnect in Minneapolis, and the harried ticket counter personnel told him they were unable to get him to Calgary that night. So Berger-David issued new e-tickets on United, and he arrived in Calgary with no time lost on the tour.   

“He now must jump through the insurance hoops for reimbursement of the new tickets, but it served as a great reminder of the wisdom, along with the tremendous value, of purchasing insurance,” she said. “I sincerely hope he has realized that our service fee is a small price to pay for service rendered.  We all know that ‘Without a travel agent, you are on your own!’ ”

Delta is human too
But on a personal level, Sandy Anderson, owner of Riverdale Travel Leaders in Coon Rapids, MN, found herself in Minneapolis airport with good things to say about the human beings behind the Delta uniforms. 

On her way to Las Vegas, she reported that “needless to say the airport check-in area was just jammed! But Delta employees were everywhere, assisting and apologizing to customers. My flight was on time, and while I only have silver status, a manager came up to me and asked what flight I was on, and escorted me to a smaller line. I saw how hard all the Delta employees were working and the customers seemed okay. So I am very impressed with the human factor Delta has, too.”

There are doubtless thousands of stories over the past few days of travelers whose plans were altered by Delta’s computer glitch. And once again, the ones with the happy endings tend to be the ones where live travel agents picked up the phone—and picked up the pieces—to get their luxury and leisure and corporate customers where they needed to go.

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