How Can Airlines Make Amends?
ALEX COHEN, host:
This week's turmoil in the airline industry has created a nightmare for people who handle travel arrangements. Larry Swerdlin runs Burton Travel just outside Baltimore, Maryland. And thank you for joining us, especially considering this is probably a pretty nutty day for you, huh?
Mr. LARRY SWERDLIN (Owner, Burton Travel): Absolutely, absolutely.
COHEN: What's it been like? What kind of calls are you getting?
Mr. SWERDLIN: Ah this is an absolute nightmare, we're getting calls from people who were stranded trying to get where they need to go, trying to get back from where they have been. And the system is just taxed to the maximum, there's no slack in terms of back-up aircraft that airlines can roll out. Seats are at a real premium, both on American where they're still flying and on other carriers. And we're just running as fast as we can, trying to help these folks.
COHEN: So what do you tell people?
Mr. SWERDLIN: Ah, if they booked through us, we tell them you did the right thing booking through us or a professional travel consultant, and we're here to help you, and we're going to do what we need to do to get you back home. If they booked someplace else, we say, we will try and help you, but you - in the future, you may want to consider booking with a live voice that's there for you.
(Soundbite of laughter)
COHEN: So this might be a little of a boon for you?
Mr. SWERDLIN: It absolutely it is. Absolutely is. It's not a question of when these things were going to happen, because they happen. You know, the Internet is wonderful, the Internet is great for point-to-point travel, there's nothing better. However, when something goes bump in the night if you have somebody with whom you've got a relationship that's going to care about you, that's going to care about seeing you back in Owings Mills, Maryland, or wherever, that's what it's about.
COHEN: A lot of people who are stuck out there now at airports are business travelers and presumably they're missing meetings, conventions, all sorts of important stuff. How big of an impact is this week going to have on businesses?
Mr. SWERDLIN: It's going to have a tremendous impact. People that are truly road warriors and know how gruesome the system is even under the best of circumstances will look at something like this and say, well you know, maybe next time we really can do it by telephone. Maybe next time we really can do a teleconference, or whatever, so it's not good for the system in general.
COHEN: Well, and this is not a particularly good time for the airline industry to be losing more business. It seems like there could be a lot of ripple effect from this.
Mr. SWERDLIN: Tremendous ripple effects in terms of both losing more business and losing the money that it costs to pull something like this off. Back in the good old days, you had a situation like this and a flight would get canceled, we could just refund that airfare. American is making the refund process extremely arduous. We as agents are not authorized to refund money, even if American cancels an operation, canceled a flight the pockets are just not that deep to handle that, to handle the overnights, to handle all the expenses.
COHEN: Mr. Swerdlin, there are people stuck at airports today. Do you have any sense of how long it might take for everyone to be to actually get to where they are going?
Mr. SWERDLIN: Not really. You know, I'm sure there are going to be tremendous worst-case scenarios, and I'm sure some people are going to get in a car from Butte, Montana to drive back to Charleston, South Carolina, and have that horror story. I think probably, you know, a couple days for it to be worked out.
COHEN: Larry Swerdlin runs Burton Travel in Owings Mills, Maryland. Thank you.
Mr. SWERDLIN: Thanks very much.
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