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Travel agents busy helping fliers get home

photo
[Times photo: Dirk Shadd]
Joan Bailey, president of HIll's Travel Service in St. Petersburg, helped one client stuck in Oregon: "Flying is his only option."

By DAVE SCHEIBER

© St. Petersburg Times,
published September 14, 2001


Passengers stranded when airlines were grounded Tuesday turn to the professionals to find their way home.

ST. PETERSBURG -- Inside Hill's Travel Service on Thursday, agents fielded a steady flow of calls, scanned airline schedules on their computers and calmly conveyed travel options over the phone.

But their day was hardly as routine as it appeared.

Bookings turned into a logistical nightmare this week when air travel was suspended following terrorist attacks in New York and Washington. And when the ban on travel was lifted Thursday morning, St. Petersburg's oldest travel agency scrambled to get stranded passengers back to their homes and offices.

One traveler was stuck in Portland, Ore., another needed a flight from Las Vegas to Dallas, and rental cars were scarce.

The company's eight consultants scurried to figure out which airlines were flying and which airports were open. And passengers with electronic tickets were warned that they now needed to present an e-ticket receipt or printout of their reservation -- not simply their I.D. -- to get to their gate. Otherwise, they needed to get back in line and get a paper ticket.

"We have some people who are stuck and we're doing everything we can to get them back as soon as possible," said vice president Chris Heironimus.

Not every client decided to wait for airline tickets. One client stranded in Kansas City couldn't find any rental cars. So his employer wired him money to buy a car to drive back to the bay area.

Many lucky enough to get rental cars drove them all the way home, said agent Cheryl Greenwood. Rental agencies waived one-way fees.

Company president Joan Bailey said of the client stuck in Portland: "It's not feasible for him to drive home. So, flying is his only option."

The passenger held an e-ticket but had no receipt or printout. So he was going to have to fight the lines to get a paper ticket. "The logistics of getting that ticket," she said, "and actually getting on a flight -- if, in fact, it flies, are iffy."

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