The Determination of the Average Blogger (tribute)

Originally, we started discussing Under the Jet Bridge as a book. We were going to put ideas on travel, tips and baggage nonsense. We were sitting under — er — probably on top of a jet bridge and enjoying those cheap little flavored ice tubes. As the idea was growing Mike says:

“I just want to tell people. I just want to let them know about how to act in an airport.”
“Yeah I know,” Brandon started. “I listened to this guy literally yelling at a gate agent because of weather issues. I think he was foreign.”
“Maybe he didn’t understand.”
“Meh.”

This is how most of our conversations end, ‘meh.’ It’s worthwhile to think about but it’s not worthwhile to pursue any further. For some reason this particular day resounded with, well silliness. With horrible supervisors, hot weather, huge bags and disruptive people. The idea lay dormant, until we finally agreed to try a blog, try writing just about the nonsense we witness daily.Not specifically about us. Not a travel blog and not to pretend we know a lot about everything (we don’t). Just to write about this.

The idea was fashioned more like a Lewis Black rant. Let’s find something that irritates one of us, get mad about it and write gobs of comments latent with profanity.

It’s been over a month. We’ve scrounged around with full time jobs, trying to be students and working around our general depravity and we’ve come to a conclusion:

This is tough.

Only now we’re starting to realize that not only is there a huge amount of writing and research for creating a blog. There’s a huge amount of planning ahead. Like, ‘keep this in mind so you can write about it.’ There is tons of ‘come up with something creative’ and ‘talk to people who you want to pay attention to you without selling out.’

The problem is you can always, ALWAYS do more. You could talk to more people, you could comment on more things, tweet more, make more friends, pay closer attention to what they say. Watch news articles with more vigor and have more opinions.

Don’t worry, we have more. We’ve recharged our batteries. But we feel like we need to pay forward a little, and bring a little good measure so here’s a huge thanks to our supporters so far. Especially Heather Poole, the wonderful Flight Attendant who just keeps boosting our egos. Russell Working, the insight in writing give us hope. And, naturally there’s a huge group of travel writers who hold blogging to the utmost regard: Ava Apollo, Johnny Jet, Tiny Girl, and finally Further Bound thanks for living out our dream!

You guys are determined, we appreciate that 🙂

Travel Taste Good

It amazes and upsets me how much I see people eat the same thing they eat every day when traveling. Traveling and food have been a part of my life ever since I could remember. Not only did it enlighten me about different cultures, but it also showed me how powerful, meaningful and memorable a simple meal can be. Food is culture – it could make the trip as memorable as the sight-seeing you plan on doing.

See what the favorite local cuisine is, if it is seafood, and you  don’t like seafood, then find your favorite chicken dish, but don’t you go running to your favorite fast-food, $.99 chicken sandwich. Granted, Daniel Pink may have a point, but run to your favorite fast-food restaurant after a long night of hitting the disco’s in Spain, it’s taste better and be slightly less memorable. Then, after you’re sober, look for the Twice-Marinated Chicken Skewers on a Bed of Rice with a Sautéed Vegetable Medley. Don’t order the #6 (remember drunk food) order the Gigot d’Agneau Romain (Roast leg of lamb with rosemary and honey). I know what you’re thinking… ‘But, Mike, I don’t wanna spend that type of money for a damn meal,’ and I’m with you! Actually I’m not really with you but I’m surprised you know my name and that makes me happy.

Lord knows I like to hold on to my cash tighter than a sexist joke that you can only tell around the boys and that one cool girl who is actually offended but wants to fit in. But guys, sexism is exclusive and we’re not about that. And, damn it, you know what? I also sometimes like my food the same way I like my ride to work, fast and cheap. (Ha, I almost did it again but I refrained, everyone can refrain) But it’s a trip, a vacation, a getaway, an experience, an escape! Just search carefully and you will find a plethora of affordable, authentic, unforgettable meals. Ladies and gents, travel tastes good, sometimes gritty and sweaty like you haven’t showered for weeks and have been living in hostels. And, you know what they say, sex is great, but a braised lamb shank and a bottle of wine are better. I’ve never heard anyone say that but I’m going to start saying it because it makes me giggle.

Missouri Hair of the Dog (it’s about drinking)

I have friends who are nervous fliers. I also have had one too many the night before, but rarely, if ever, have I zombied through TSA checkpoint at 4 a.m., found my gate for the 6 o’clock departure and thought, ‘damn, I could really use a beer.’

It’s slightly old news, but it’s news nonetheless. But now people flying out of Lambert-St. Louis international airport can enjoy a drink before their 6 a.m. departure to either Dallas, Newark, JFK, O’hare of Atlanta (if you’re going any place else you’re not making a connecting flight and you’re not leaving, willingly, at 6 a.m.) It’s not big news, nor great news, and their are other airports in the U.S. that allow drinks in the morning. But it’s interesting because of the rationale behind (if any).

Is this new agreement for the passenger’s sake? Or maybe it’s economically sound to bring in a couple of more employees for the morning shift. It is, after all, a HMShost airport. However there seems to be hardly any stipulation on rationale behind this. A quick view of the local media outlets all spout the same thing: you can now drink starting at 4 a.m. at Lambert-St. Louis (Brandon just flew through there and said you’d need alcohol to handle the terrible Starbucks service).

My Financial World gives a good long piece about people flying from the East Terminal (primarily all Southwest flights with a couple regional flights) but Topix and local News Channel 4 are vague.

Again, it’s not CrankyFlier newsworthy, nor is it Airline Reporter worthy (two airline writers that we here at Under the Jet Bridge owe so much material to) but it’s interesting to consider. Booze is one portion of our lives that many people can talk about. It’s the sports team that everyone has an opinion on and the greatest thing is, there really aren’t that many sports teams to follow. Even if you abstain from drinking, you can talk about why you don’t drink. It’s a universal topic which makes it news worthy, right?

Is it necessary to cut off the hangover early in the morning? Or should you be required to suffer until drinks are served on the plane? Add two parts bourbon, a splash of dark port and a handful of Californian raisins. Serve in a low-ball with ice and I’ll see you in the exit row because I want to stretch my legs.

 

The HMSHostest with the leastest

Okay, so this takes big cajones. Buying a Penthouse magazine when you’re flying coach. That has to be one of the biggest investments that may never actually pay off until you’re home or in a hotel. You’re going to sit next to someone who disapproves, guaranteed. And if you’re not sitting next to someone who disapproves you’re suddenly sharing the moment with some pre-pubescent boy who’s mother will disapprove.

Ballsy.

The next boldest thing (this sounds like a Taco Bell commercial, poorly written) is service employees expecting tips for poor service or, worse, expecting tips for performing their required duties.

We write about airport things so I’ll stick with the airport to give aim to this article, I’m not ranting about Alicia at Olive Garden and my empty breadstick basket.

Ever heard of HMShost? they’re big. If you know of them you know they’re big and if not here’s the ice-cream scoop. They’re not huge but big enough.

With over 26,000 employees, HMShost stocks a majority of airports with food services by purchasing franchises and placing lower wage workers into these establishments. The workers, then, work for a certain percentage of tips with their wages (excepting some small magazine stands) for their performance at the establishments.

HMShost, like all companies, is liable for having a handful of mediocre employees. In fact, it’s statistically impossible to get all good employees. But rapid expansion may have contributed to mediocre middle managers resulting in impoverished quality in terms of food preparation and service.

The real problem is, if you hadn’t heard of HMShost, you don’t care who is holding the franchise of various restaurant names. You care about the name. So that barista at Starbucks is a barista hired by a manager linked up to Starbucks HQ, but really only trained by Starbucks and hired by HMShost.

It is guaranteed that Starbucks and Chile’s Too and Wolfgang Puck all help train these various employees, but after training, after they’re in front of customers, these employees are children under step-mom’s supervision and step-mom is impartial to their quality of life and their performance.

In all honesty, if I were the head of customer relations for Starbucks or Chile’s Too, Dunkin Donuts and rest I’d be at a loss for words. Good service is becoming a huge rarity at these establishments, almost a joke in its own. In the end it reflects on the company at large, not the company that holds the franchise.

Rarely does anyone rave about airport food. There are certain expectations when it comes to paying $10 per meal and part of these expectations are coherency and a little smile, or something.

What is raved about are a couple of innovations, like being able to order your food from your gate via cell phone in Vancouver. Okay, that’s spiffy. Doesn’t mean the food’s better but less walking for more money could be sweet.

I don’t believe in personal experience as pinnacle of a good argument, in fact personal experience makes for a very bad argument. But I have witnessed poor service because of lack of tips in these establishments, short tempers, incoherences and overall general lack of concern for their work. Either something is wrong in the incentives department or the discipline department or both. The only problem is, people don’t care. Passengers are more worried about the fees they paid for their carry-ons or checked bags, they don’t care about the poor service in the Terminal.

They should, but they don’t.

This is to bring to your attention, though, that those people employed at airports are not always Starbucks employees, but more than likely some huge conglomerate that is leeching off the brand of others. You should bring your bad experiences to HSMhost, show them that you would really enjoy some kind good service with your food.

Sorry, I still want to play with the buying a porno for an American or United flight. What if the kid’s mom, the kid you’re having a moment while admiring some poor saps daughter, what if the mom is really cute? Do you ever think that the bonding between her kid and you won’t pay off in the end. Imagine that you get to know mom, that you guys like each other. And in the end, when the last stone is turned over, when your hand is forced at dinner over an empty basket of Olive Garden breadsticks, it comes to tlight that you and Jimmy were looking at Ms. August together, under the little personal lamps of an MD-80. Ha, that’s kind of funny.

The Goat-Bag and Jennifer Connelly’s Fight for survival

This is a fairy-tale for instructional purposes only. Feel free to change content while telling it to your children at night. And don’t let them watch Labyrinth, it’s not good.

Imagine this: You just reached your final destination and you’re either excited to start your vacation or feeling refreshed from a little R&R. You deboard the plane with a big smile and a thank you to the Flight Attendant and head to baggage claim. You made a friend on the flight too, the guy sitting next to you was throwing peanuts at the Bro-Dude who was trying (and failing) to make the flight as miserable as possible for everyone. You decide to walk together. You couldn’t be happier. As you approach the carousel you realize the bags have already started ejecting from the floor. You wait as everyone claims their belongings, some people start to leave. At this point the only people left are the elderly passengers who think it’s necessary to check the name on very bag that goes around, you know, just in case. You start to worry “I did check it all the way through didn’t I?” you think as you scramble to find the little sticker the ticketing agent gave you when you started your trip. Then you here it. “Flop” you look up and there it is, your bag. Or what’s left of it. The happy go lucky disposition you once had does a complete 360 as you watch your bag slowly make its way down the conveyor. What could have possibly happened that turns your bag inside out, changed the color from black to something resembling seaweed, and makes it smell like grandpa’s barn. So again, What happened? The answer: The bag room happened.

Lets rewind to the beginning of the trip. You are at the ticket counter, you just received your boarding pass and your bag has been tagged. “Head on down to gate A17, Drop your bag with TSA, they will screen it and send it down. Thank you and enjoy your flight” is probably something you heard from the ticketing agent. So you do as you’re told and put your bag on the cart with all the other bags. This is were our story begins.

To help you understand, I’m going to attempt to compare each aspect of your bags journey to a fairy tale. First stop: Three Billy Goats Gruff. This is TSA. TSA agents are the Trolls who live in darkness and are always hungry. The huge machine that screens the bag is the bridge.  And of course your bag is the Goat. Now lets put this into perspective. As your bag starts to cross the “bridge” the TSA Trolls are watching a little monitor. The monitor tells them exactly what is in every bag. But remember, the Trolls are hungry so they look for every opportunity they can to jump on the bridge and pull your bag apart, break your belongs inside, grope every little bit of your traveling life and once they realize there’s nothing good inside, they wrap it up with a bunch of TSA Screening tape and send it on its way in hopes that a bigger better “Goat” will be coming next.

After that, the TSA Trolls put the bag on a long conveyor which belongs to David Bowie: King of Goblins and it enters the labyrinth. The Bag Room.

Just like the King of Goblins, the designers of the bag room meant for it to be unsolvable. The system of conveyors seems endless and the constant swing of mechanical arms and trap doors beats any bag senseless (hey I rhymed.) Occasionally what ever is reading the tags (probably one of Bowie’s muppet goblins) sends your bag to the wrong airline but most of the time they get it right and after about a 15 minutes journey your bag is dropped into the Bog of Eternal Stench.

The Bog of Eternal Stench is the area of the bag room that a particular airline claims as their own. They walk, slowly and avoid sunlight and mirrors. The bags drop in and are sorted to their destination. Why is it being compared to the Bog of Eternal Stench? Because it stinks. This area of the airport hasn’t been cleaned, ever. The house keeping service that keep most areas of the airport bright and shiny have no jurisdiction here. There is a good half inch layer of, well I’m not really sure, covering everything. If I had to guess it’s some combination of dirt, dust, and the remains of people who got lost down there over the last 90 years. And after your bag goes through the labyrinth of bag conveyers, this is where it is dropped, literally four to seven feet.

So now your bag (the goat or Jennifer Connelly who is too young to be in that movie) is sitting in a hug pile with other bags waiting to be sorted. By this time any bag that had liquids inside, is now oozing out onto everyone elses, this is a given fact. Your bag has the blood of other bags on it. This concoction of booze, perfume, and toiletries is why we call it the Bog of Eternal Stench.

What is the only creature who can navigate a labyrinth and isn’t affected by the smell and filth of the Bog of Eternal Stench? The Minotaur, also known as the Bag Man. The Bag Man usually has an above average amount of upper body strength, has little to no people skills and for some reason is always angry. For these traits are the reason he must dwell in the bag room, he is condemned to sort bags for eternity. There’s no change or difference, no fueling. He talks to his tug (the little tractor dealies used to pull the baggage carts) as if it were his wife.

This is how it is done: First the Minotaur navigates his tug through the bag room at amazing speeds. He finds his area of the bag room with his bags (because once they enter his Bog they no longer belong to you until he is done with them.) Then he begins to sort them. He does this by quickly jumping off his tug right into the middle of the bag pile. From there he begins to aggressively throw them onto a particular cart (only he knows his method of organization) then quickly speeds off again. This is all done in a matter of seconds with a large amount of grunting and arm flailing.

Periodically in all this speeding around, a bag will fall off the cart blocking the way of another Minotaur. The Minotaur will now use this bag as a way to pick a fight with the other Minotaur when they see each other next. This is usually a fight worthy of National Geographic, comparable to elephant seals asserting dominance for their female mates.

The bags are then loaded and unloaded from the plane the same way they were picked up. This process is  then repeated for every connecting city you go through. The Bag Men (and occasionally women) are the same all over the world.

Now here you are, at your final destination watching your bag slowly make its way to you. How more bags don’t end up like this, the world my never know. But hey, look on the bright side, you can actually see the extra care your bag received from you paying the extra checked baggage fee.

The Grounder’s Dictionary 1.2

Let’s face it, the airport is super scary. At least here in Amurica we don’t let our police officers carry submachine guns. *cough* Yet. The next update of the Grounder’s Dictionary is here to protect your mental integrity. Here are more of the terms you need to know, and if you don’t know you need to click here to read the other ones.

Bro-Dude, noun: term coined by Under the Jet Bridge. The person on a flight (duration longer than 2 hours) who pays no attention to any other living being in a twenty-foot vicinity. Smells like Axe body spray or Brut Cool Blue aftershave.

Catchin’ the egg, phrase: used by Ramp Rats (or concrete seamen) used to describe the action of marshaling a plane to stopping position. Uses: “Hey, yo. You gonna catch the egg or me? I caught the last egg straight on the T b—-.” Common replies are “Hey yo, f— you, you dirty b—– t—- smoking t—- twisting poop shovel.” Ramp workers are very inappropriate people.

Gate-Check, noun: a term invented as a dirty-rotten no good dry-heave inducing trick by commercial airlines. It was discovered to create confusion in innocent flying bystanders as to which bags they are required to pay for, and which bag they can sneak onto the plane.

Epaulettes, noun: the tiger stripes on the pilot and crew members shoulders. Numbers reflect the amount of alcoholic beverages the wearer is allowed one hour before flight. Meaning the less stripes, the more work they have to do.

LEO, noun: after 9/11 Law Enforcement Officers wanted to re-brand themselves as a more vicious, secretive group of agents regardless of their credentials. They consulted advertising agencies, stoned copywriters and various pentagrams. Eventually their leaders noted the average amount of birthdays between July 23 and August 22 in their officers, which was the exact same distribution as every other astrological sign. They decided lions are cooler than twins and bulls and now call themselves LEOs.

Overhead Bin, noun: future term for ‘emotional baggage.’ Shrinks are now sitting patients down and asking “what are you stuffing into your overhead bin today?” to which they reply, “doc my overhead bin is overflowing as if Carry-ons were still free.”

Gate-Agent, noun: individuals without the upper body strength to preform the daily duties of the ramp AND/OR who have demonstrated better, less offensive people skills than ramp agents.

Counter Agent, noun: an individual without the upper body strength to preform the daily duties of the ramp AND without the demonstrated people skills of ramp agents. These individuals typically build up a hight tolerance of TSA agents and can interact with them in what would be fatal amounts for ‘normal’ individuals.

 

Make a Flight Attendant smile, toss peanuts at the dude.

They’re always there, each flight there’s The Dude. Nowhere near as cool as Jeff Bridges. He talks on his phone until he’s asked to turn it off three times, he orders some complicated nonsensical drink which a bartender at the Hilton wouldn’t recognize, he yells too loudly because he can’t adjust to the pressure change. That dude.

Let’s change pace, un momento.

Flight Attendant’s come in categories and these categories are reflective to your age, sex and general demeanor. FA’s have an amazing ability to change their level of service depending on who you are . For this Attendants get a nod of appreciation. Master’s of the ocular pat-down (yeah I stole that, you figure out where) they’ll sum you up, set you down, make or break your flight. The expertise that Attendants typically exercise is phenomenal and preternatural. You’re young, hip, arrogant, they know, they’ll give you the eye during the ‘turn off your shit’ phase. You’re elderly, kind, and generally aware of your surroundings, they’re going to help lift your carry-on.

Then there’s the dude. Who they’re going to treat well regardless, because it’s their job. And they’re going to talk about him later on, either in a crew lounge, or while commuting to their hotel for the evening. If they’re ending the shift, well, that dude will be there somewhere lurking in the abyss.

This is now our point of view, here Under the Jet Bridge and it stands that our POV is not appropriate for every person, age, race, preference nor style. But as twenty-somethings, working in the airline industry, breaking the handles off of people’s luggage and, sometimes, feeling bad about it (I’ve left a sorry note once), we have a point of view. We smile at FAs. The female attendants that are older than us, we try to charm, be on our best behavior, speak loudly and make eye contact, give simple drink requests and have our trash at the ready. Young females, well, we turn up the charm, check our hair, whatevs. Male FAs, you guys are like distant cousins, regardless of age, you’re in the trenches, smellin’ the mustard gas and puttin’ on airs with asshole-dealin’-swag.

Whether burnt out, dead tired, or kind of craggy and scary looking, FA’s drive the business that is the airline industry. That smile sells reputation and reputation is what people bitch about on the internet (a very scary place).

Then there’s the dude. He’s there, two rows in front or behind you, opposite the aisle, trying to play Words with Friends or Draw Something, shoving his gum under the lip of the back seat pocket and trying to hide his headphones under his hoodie. He’s a dick

I’m satisfied we’ve established this.

Now, we’re not fiends of karma, we don’t think that every bad person gets his come-uppins and we don’t believe in taking the law into our own hands. But the tube of an airplane is a society, a microcosm not unlike a county. You get all breeds of bacteria (people too). There are real-estate mongers who monopolize the bathroom, you’ve got Federal Air Marshals sticking out like a Secret Service Agent in a Columbian Cathouse (too late?) and you’ve got the dude.

Now, dude. Brandon calls him the Bro, because he has on a Giant’s hat sideways. Bro Dude, regardless of your next stock trade, or informing your wife when and exactly where to pick you up, you got to adhere to a couple of rules.

But past those rules you need to understand the society. Every person on this plane is the Drake or Magellan or Hilary Clinton, even if we’re not representing the places we come from, or the ways of our people, we must tread carefully over the potential cultural differences between us. Mainly to avoid a arm-rest turf war. By adhering to the ‘pay attention law’ you may find yourself in better favor with the powers that be i.e. (Latin lesson of the day! id est: that is) your wonderful Flight Attendants.

When you don’t, the cool part is, you won’t know. You won’t fathom that you’re the Bro Dude, the guy who’s pushing everyone’s buttons. When you wake up though, suddenly from your apnea coma and you find a pretzel or a peanut on your lapel, you’ll shake it off. No worries says the Bro Dude.

We’re there though. Us twenty-somethings. Us guys who take a little law in our hands. We’ll be the guys sipping on a ginger ale and Jack. We’ll be the guys with an open bag of peanuts on our tray tables. We’re the ones who woke up your disfigured, sleep-terror face. Then we’re going to post something on Twitter about it, just for giggles.

Rewards of Being Friendly: Airport Food Edition

Here at Under the Jet Bridge we all love food. Mike can tell you all about ethnic food such as chocolate from Japan infused with tea leaves; Grant can recite every type of coffee bean ever grown; and I (Brandon) know a thing or two about eating healthy. We all usually bring our lunch/dinner to work but occasionally we like to experience what the airport has to offer (which really means we were too lazy to pack something before coming in.)

Eating at the airport isn’t always bad. The three of us have found items on each of the restaurant’s menus that are actually pretty tasty, but always expensive. It’s a rule of thumb that no matter where you go (at least at our airport) you are going to pay $10+. Unless it’s Starbucks. Everyone also knows (airline employee or not) that the people who work at the food establishments can be a little unfriendly. Take this into consideration: how would you feel if you were under paid, worked long hours, then had to deal with oblivious passengers all day?

For the past couple of weeks we have been performing a little experiment with the people that work at our local establishments.

The Experiment: Be ridiculously friendly with the workers who run the food joints.

The Purpose: To Brighten the day of everyone at the airport. Also know as, receiving free food.

The Outcome: Surprisingly enough, this actually works! Nothing big but enough to matter. Things like, getting a Grande coffee for the price of a Tall, free chips and salsa with your meal, and even an free doughnut with your morning coffee!

Next time you’re your flying try it out. Talk to them. Ask them how their day is going and when they say “not so good” apologize on the behalf of all of the dumb travelers they saw before you. Get on their side and make it seem like you are on their team. It’s not always going to work, but when it does it’s rewarding for the both of you.

The Grounders Dictionary

For a little clarification on the insider terms of the airline industry, we’ve put together some definitions. If you hear these things being thrown around the airport, let us know!

Concourse, noun: (latin) Con-with course-purpose; buildings designed on their inherent implausibility. Oftentimes modeled after mice mazes, the purpose of the concourse soon became apparent when one could drop off their elderly, dementia-ridden in-laws and never see them again.

Face, noun: term to describe how one airline pilot approaches another airline pilot. Interactions include never actually talking about airline related subject matter to protect the parties respective ego, but instead to refer to the opposite sex as “nice” or “appealing” because men can no longer safely objectify women in the workplace. Common phrase is “I gave face to that United pilot, we talked about a sweet stewardess.”

Flaps, noun: the only technical aircraft related term every man knows between the age of sixteen and seventy-two. Used auspiciously to impress the person they are sitting next to. A common phrase is “hear that? that’s the flaps. Yeah, I’ve flown a lot. The flaps come down for landing and create a low-pressure-air-whirlpool-wooshy-bubble around the landing gear to, you know, protect it. It’s really, very technical.”

Grounder, noun: an individual who works various functions on the ramp of an airport. Curses often, hardly sober, sometimes considered the seamen of the airline industry depending on ethnicity, hair length, assumed sex and shank preference.

Non-Revenue or Non-Rev, noun: an individual who is traveling for nearly free on airline related benefits. Divided into two groups there are the Ghosts and the Army Buddies. Ghost Non-Rev individuals are well dressed, quiet, and sit near the gate with anguished hope in their eyes. Army Buddies talk incessantly to airline workers regardless of their position and try to somehow relate to their work, they rarely if ever succeed and oftentimes are mistaken for perverts trying to hit on the gate agents.

Jet Bridge, noun: the fallopian tube of passenger walkways. The first opportunity to smell the other persons you will be traveling with and adjust your head scarves and perfume ratios accordingly. More prayers are conducted here than churches, synagogues and mosques combined. Typical prayers are “please do not let me sit beside the man with food crusties around his mouth and a trip-XL Texas Longhorn jersey on.”

PAX, plural noun: industry term referring to multiple passengers. Aircraft that often have continuous mechanical issues are referred to as PAX Sacks because of their high likelihood of the aircraft placing each individual on-board into body bags.

Standby, noun: an individual hell-bent on getting to their next layover earlier. Often standing by the gate agent, pouting or smiling with bile, and trying to start a conversation with every other passenger who approaches the gate agent. Comparable to the kid in college who would laminate his notes, the standby somehow thinks they are ‘more informed’ than other travelers because they ‘know’ about the earlier flight and are, therefore, entitled to ride.

Secret (Travel) Agent Man

To call or not to call.These days it’s not a reason of why, but how to find a good travel agent.  Travel agents (who occasionally prefer the term travel consultants) are experiencing a revamp in business. What was once thought to be the dying service is seeing an influx of patronage from a wide demographic of people. If you Google “Why Travel Agents” you’ll see a huge number of hits (531,000,000) and at the top of the list are some very compelling articles. Larry Olmstead writes a great account on Forbes.com as to why travel agents are necessary here and here. Olmstead articulates the argument so well that there’s hardly any need for this post to address why agents are necessary.

The problem isn’t justification, though, but convincing people to use an agent. Travel consultants should be considered as any other specialized service; same as your lawyer, your accountant or even the firm who helps file your taxes. Like these examples the service comes with a wealth of information which, in the age of DIY (do it yourself) you could, plausibly, find on your own. What Turbo Tax and H&R Block do for you, however, is save you time by being convenient AND back you up when you get into trouble.

The difficulty of convincing people to pay an agent arises with sites like this or Sun Travel. Both are top hits on Google. Like all industries, self promotion is the key to existence. However in the new age of Marketing and PR (a la David Meerman Scott among others) providing a laundry list as self promotion is typically dismissed by the audience as mirror self-inflation. A good lawyer may give you a list of testimonials, of client satisfaction or case-winnings, but they’re not going to provide a laundry list for why you need a lawyer. When you need one, you’ll go looking for one.

Travel consultants should learn the lesson. It comes off as amateur to simply list why you’re necessary. Assume you are necessary and provide testimonial by building an vast online support network via social media and blogs. Consider your clients, the people who book cruises with you, as repaying your services with a mention on their Twitter account. But, payment in this new age of consultants can’t simply be good mentions on websites.

In the revamp of the travel agent there also is a revamp in payment process. The new age of travel consulting is a tricky one. Agents are faced with very poor rates of return from bookings cruises, airlines, hotels and tour packages (some as low as $13.00 a head) because all these industries want higher return for their products. The less they pay, the better the margin of profit for Carnival Cruises and Super African Sufari. Essentially agents spend X amount of hours marketing, researching and selling and are thanked with mediocre returns on investment.

In answer to this some consultants have started charging for time invested, much like a lawyer. But the billings become vague and highly competitive with other travel consultants. Oftentimes there’s no real way of evaluating the value of one agent compared to another (even with customer reviews), so a well established self-employed agent may charge twice as much as a start-up agent yet provide the exact same services with the same resources.

What’s the solution? Buy local.

If your looking for an agent start locally: it’s like an organic movement but for a service industry. If you are a travel consultant market yourself locally. Tell what city you’re based in and why you like it, branch out to places where travel agents don’t typically go to like bars, restaurants and senior housing. Then online build yourselves not as Travel Agents, but people who are willing to research, argue, bargain and talk with customers for a nominal fee. As you grow diversify your clientele. Find a small company and offer your services. Then, not only are you providing families with great travel information but corporations too. You have created a portfolio which you can now use as a marketing tool, instead of writing self-inflation.

If you find, as a traveler, a consultant who really gets you, really molds to your needs (say they’re very terse and down to business and you dig that, or maybe they love to talk and you have hour long conversations while commuting home) let others know. This is part of the repayment. The other part of the repayment, the monetary part, should be discussed with your agent after you’ve booked one or two trips with them. Perhaps the solution to repaying your consultant should be two-fold, with marketing at one section. The other section, if they don’t already have a pay-up-front for consulting, would be a tip. A monetary tip based on the cost of your trip, say 10%. In reality they probably still saved you as much, and chose not to charge you some vague fee that would go into their pockets. You’ll be creating loyalty on both ends, the service provider and the client.

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