It was something about a volcano. And volcanic ash. And closed airspace. And we found ourselves marooned in Venice (our article in the magazine Our Canada).
The vacation started in Monte Carlo where we boarded the Regent Seven Seas Mariner for eleven days on the Mediterranean. It took us on a return trip to Tuscany and Rome. It introduced us to Sicily and Mount Etna. It gave us a breathtaking introduction to Albania and Montenegro (more about that one in a later post). That was about the point where fellow cruisers began to get nervous about the news. Had we heard? Airspace was closed. Well, we thought, nothing is going to ruin the last few days of our cruise vacation. And it did not. There’s an old saying that worrying about tomorrow is like throwing a black cloud over today – or something like that. In any case, we weren’t going to let something that might or might not happen rob us of today’s enjoyment. However, we are also realists. As discerning travelers, we simply emailed our trusty travel agent, put her on alert, and left it up to her to deal with the fall-out – so to speak. Which she did.
When we arrived in Venice and were cut loose from the cruise ship, we knew that our flight had been cancelled already. Not to be deterred (and God forbid, not to be left responsible for cruisers), the ship provided us with transportation to the airport. Maybe they know something we don’t, we thought. We had booked our air as part of the cruise package – but of course, had done it through our travel agency, Maritime Travel. We decided to humor the cruise line (all the while knowing that our travel agent had already booked us a room at the Molino Stucky Hilton in Venice), and went along with their charade. When we arrived at Marco Polo International Airport, we were unceremoniously dumped on the pavement with our bags and told that the airport had been closed. We were to await another bus to take us to Padua, but in the meantime we would have to wait in the parking lot with our luggage since the bus was needed for another run. Huh?
As we waited, we took note of the desperate water taxi drivers who had no business since no one was coming in. Then we told the tour guide who had come onto the bus to ask us to get off and wait that as grateful as we were for this possible adventure, we would be returning to Venice. ‘You’re leaving?’ said one incredulous fellow passenger. Why not? We were, after all, the masters of our own domain. We had a travel agent in our corner and she did not let us down.
So, while the other passengers nervously waited, we took advantage of the empty water taxi and went back into Venice. After we figured out that our travel agent had rebooked us on a flight several days later (eventually that had to be altered as well, but we didn’t have to do it), we ‘did’ Venice.
Several days later, we decided to move to a hotel closer to the airport and found scores of former cruise ship passengers who had been grinding their teeth and spinning their wheels for several days – going back and forth to the airport to see if there was any progress. We enjoyed that hotel, even taking the local bus back into the city for an adventure. Then, the day before our now twice-rescheduled flight was to leave we walked over to the airport and got our boarding passes. We then took our memories of an extra week in Venice home with us while others took home their frustration and longed to have the week behind them.
That’s only one story about the value of a travel agent. Of course there are times when we go ahead and book airline tickets online when we’re just planning a weekend in New York or Toronto. But anything more than that, and as far as we’re concerned, you need a real person – a real live travel agent with whom you have developed a relationship – in your corner. You need a travel agent that has a call service for those emergencies in the off hours.
Our current travel agent, Angela, inherited us when Patty’s travel agent of almost 25 years was elevated to an executive suite position in the company and asked us if he could get someone else to do the day-to-day things we needed. He would be a back-up just in case. We have never really needed him since Angela is more than competent – and what’s more important, we have come to trust her.
When we did a web search for information on the value of travel agents, most of what we could find was advertising from individual travel agencies. This is not one of those. As far as we are concerned, you can take your online travel aggregators like Expedia or Travelocity, but for our hard-earned money that we spend freely on travel experiences, we rely on a real person who knows our needs. When we book a big trip, we do the research and often even tell her what flights we want etc. But she will do the comparison shopping for us for cruises and packages if we choose one. The agency also provides excellent insurance and will even put in the claim for us. When we had our trip ‘interrupted’ by the volcanic eruption, our extra week of vacation was covered and Angela did the leg work for us.
I have never met Angela. The office she manages isn’t even in our city! But she’s the one Alan, our previous agent recommended, and we trusted him completely when it came to travel ‘stuff.’ Angela is that wonderful woman on the other end of the email or the telephone. And that works just fine for us.
Pro-Travel Tips, although they seem to be an agency themselves, have a list of 101 reasons why you need a travel agent. In our view, discerning travelers recognize several of their reasons as the priority ones…
- To save time.
- To have a consumer advocate in your corner.
- To have a source of updated information (such as those emails we get from Angela when a flight schedule has changed. And this includes those smaller connecting flights like the three we’ll take next month in Hawaii. And to make sure you still have assigned seats on an plane when they’ve made an aircraft change – happened yesterday!)
- To provide you with details of the credentials and immunizations you’ll need. If we need a visa, she’ll tell us.
- To provide us with top-notch travel insurance.
- To provide details of unexpected expenses while traveling.
- To provide someone to complain to when a service provided is problematic.
- To give you that peace of mind when you leave the country. If something goes wrong, we have one telephone call to make.
Cheers to travel agents who do their job well!
*Note: No one paid us to endorse this or any travel agency. It’s our personal experience and opinion.