As Hurricane Lane bore down on Hawaii last week, the destination wedding that travel agent Geoff Millar was planning for a client and 30 guests was hardly looking like the trip of a lifetime.
But, after 15 years in the business, and with a specialty in all-inclusive resorts and Hawaii vacations, Millar was unperturbed. With little fuss — and at no cost to the couple — he moved everything, from airline tickets to hotel accommodations to airport transfers to table decorations. And on Tuesday, just seven days behind schedule, the group flew off to their dream wedding in Hawaii, with no extra baggage other than a great story to tell of how their travel agent saved the day.
Millar says that his heroism really entailed little extra work on his part. His experience in the region, and the clout of his $8 million annual travel spend, prepared him to deal with wind and rain and other catastrophes through a combination of local partnerships and the right travel insurance.
“We deal with hurricanes all over the Caribbean ever year, so it’s kind of second nature to us,” he said. “You have to have a plan and a good partner. We use mainly Funjet, Apple Vacations and Travel Impressions; they handle hurricanes year after year after year, and act as our partner on the ground.”
In light of the storm, American Airlines was allowing customers to change their tickets at no additional cost. Millar also had booked through Apple Vacations, whom he says did the lion’s share of the work, and he had advised the group to take Apple’s “cancel for any reason” travel insurance policy.
“It’s beneficial in hurricane season to have someone in the middle to help you through the process, to have two people working on the problem rather than dealing with the hotel looking out for its own best interest,” he said. “It took us two days to get everything done, but we were able to move the whole thing and stay at the same resort, and all the moving around didn’t cost the couple anything.”
Millar, of course, was not the only travel agent working to keep travelers out of harm’s way. Jamie Jones, of WhirlAway Travel in West Chester, Pennsylvania, for example, took a frantic call from a Hawaii honeymooner who was not even her customer. Yet.
“I got him reaccommodated from Lanai to Big Sur, and he had his car rental, hotel confirmation, destination guide and first-night dinner reservation ready when he landed,” she said. “Then, he got a five-category upgrade when he checked in, along with the rest of our free amenities.”
Ashley Bennington, of Janelle & Co. Travel in Rochester, New York, also had honeymooners in Hawaii; they were supposed to fly from Maui to the Big Island on Thursday. Knowing their flight was likely going to be canceled, “we weighed our options between keeping them on Maui or going to the Big Island a day early. I recommended heading to the Big Island and got their flight, hotel and rental changed. We were so thankful they did, as their resort was hardly hit and they were able to enjoy the spa in the middle of a hurricane. Maui was hit much harder than where they were.”
And at Millennium Travel in New York, Toni Russo Romeo’s clients in Kauai decided to cancel the move to Maui they had been planning. Instead, she switched their flight on Hawaiian Airlines to Las Vegas via Honolulu, and they spent four nights in Vegas. “I found a flight for the return on a one-way ticket back to New York because United wouldn't change the destination on their return ticket,” she said.
Owner Ina Schweitzer, of European Travel International in Riverside, California, meanwhile, had a pretty easy time of it, just doing what travel professionals always do when trouble hits. With a worried family of 13 on Kaanapali Beach, watching Lane draw closer, “I was really just a voice of reason,” she said. “Their flight home was on Thursday at 1:00 pm; I advised they leave their hotel early just in case there was flooding on the highway. They ma