You used to hear that travel agents won’t be needed anymore. Today, we need travel agents more than ever.
I have been in the travel industry for decades. And for decades I’ve heard it’s a dying industry.
Yet, in 2019, the travel agent business was growing, although it’s hard to know exact numbers. Many work somewhat independently from home, and others work part-time. However, the latest estimates are probably over 100,000 travel agents working in the U.S. and there’s an increasing number of younger agents.
Of course, two years of near travel shutdown has made a difference. As a veteran, it was frustrating to see not only many older agents retire but also many younger agents give up on the profession. They were quitting because there wasn’t enough work.
Now, with quite possibly the worst travel summer ever, even more are quitting and many I know are considering stopping work. But this time it’s from overwork.
The travel industry is trying to find a new normal for travel agents’ work.
However, the industry is understaffed, especially in times of high demand. This is where travel agents come in — especially with airline travel
Generally, travel agents who work for top agencies have access to resources civilians do not. We have reservation systems that show all major airlines, special phone numbers, and sales office emails. Plus, good agents have an insider’s knowledge of how the travel industry works.
Travel agents have inside information that can be used to help you.
- We can see if an airline that tells you “there are no other options” is ignoring flights on another airline that they might put you on IF you ask.
- Travel agents/advisors can call help desks. (Yes, those help desks can be backed up.) But last week, Lufthansa and Delta Airlines, for example, had 1-3 hour hold times on those special lines, where travelers reported 5-6 hours.
- We also know insider tricks, like while Lufthansa’s travel agent help desk closes evenings and weekends, Delta’s 24-7 help desk is easier to reach late at night, and you talk to employees in Minneapolis or Atlanta.
- We also know about potential alternatives — when San Francisco flights are full, try San Jose; if Washington DC flights are full, try Baltimore or even Philadelphia. Or when San Diego flights are reporting all full or canceled? Well, it IS only a two-hour drive from Los Angeles… (In June, I ended up with clients who took a $160 Uber ride, but they made it to London when American Airlines in San Diego said they couldn’t rebook them for days.)
The list goes on.
Quite frankly, most travel agents/advisors I know aren’t looking for new business. More travel advisors can help the industry.
I wasn’t joking about people quitting from overwork. But we are looking for more people to join the industry. And an advantage for the airline industry AND for travelers is that travel agents can help all airlines. Maybe bad weather in Chicago means that United and American are having problems, but Delta is doing okay. Maybe a pilot shortage only affects one airline. Perhaps COVID issues are worse with one carrier than another at any time.
If the Department of Transportation and Congress wants to help Americans out of this mess, they should stop focusing on working with airlines who have helped create this travel nightmare. Start focusing on ways to recruit more travel professionals who can help travelers across all airlines fix it.
Janice Hough is a California-based travel agent a travel blogger and a part-time comedy writer. A frequent flier herself, she’s been doing battle with airlines, hotels, and other travel companies for over three decades. Besides writing for Travelers United, Janice has a humor blog at Leftcoastsportsbabe.com (Warning, the political and sports humor therein does not represent the views of anyone but herself.)