Pacific Northwest Trade Begins 'Recovery Work' After Storms


SEATTLE -- The Pacific Northwest began recovering from a spate of severe storms that left holiday travelers stranded, closed major roads and forced many travel agencies to suspend operations temporarily.

"Just about all of this city [was shut down], except for Starbucks," said an employee of the Seattle-King County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Seattle-Tacoma Airport was among the most affected transportation facilities, having cut its service to about a quarter of its capacity during the stormy holiday week.

Rachel Garson, a spokeswoman for the airport, said it now is operating about 80% of flights.

Travel agents, meanwhile, worked to get clients on flights for previously planned vacations.

"It's recovery work," Gina Main of Olympus Travel in Tacoma, Wash., said.

"We've had a lot of people stuck, some at the airport for two days when nothing was able to get out. When flights were able to get out, there were not a lot of empty seats."

Some clients who could not make it to the airport because of closed highways chose to postpone their vacations until the weather improved.

Agents worked with airlines, which waived rebooking fees to accommodate clients, she said.

Alan Boyce of Global Express in Edmonds, Wash., said that, as the weather worsened, he sent his staff home early two days and kept the agency open by himself, even through a brief power outage.

He fielded phone calls from frustrated travelers stuck at home or at airports, rebooking them on later flights.

Travel Navigators in Everett, Wash., closed for two-and-a-half days because of the weather and reopened Dec. 30 with its full staff, which was busy with phone calls from clients who never got to take their post-holiday trips.

"We're rebooking people who are wondering what to do because their flights and packages were canceled," agent Linda Kemper said.

"A lot of them want to know how to apply for refunds or how to get their luggage back after they checked it in because they were on standby for flights that never left."

Operators also had their share of extra work -- and lost revenue.

Sunmakers, for example, said it was shut down for one-and-a-half days as a result of the storms.

"We've got long phone holds," Bill Anderson, senior vice president of Sunmakers, said.

"We may have had a big loss of revenue, but travel agents were not working on those days either, and a lot are calling today."

He predicted that the cold, snowy blast -- by some accounts the worst winter storm in the Northwest in 70 years -- will boost bookings to warm-weather destinations, particularly Hawaii, where attractive air fares are available.

At Holland America-Westours, also in Seattle, the reservations department was cut to half its strength as a result of the storms.

Although a skeleton crew was scheduled to work during one of the storms, the firm had to shut down completely.

On Dec. 30, the company used its Gray Line subsidiary to run buses to pick up employees from park-and-ride lots and take them home in the evening; 75% to 80% of reservations agents made it to work.

"We're also making full use of our 10 people who are telecommuters -- res agents who work from home," said a company spokeswoman.

"We want agents across the country to know that we appreciate their understanding of the situation," which resulted in long telephone hold periods, she said.

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