CHICAGO -- Shannon Stewart, vice president of sales and
marketing for Professional Travel in Englewood, Colo., waited hours
for snowplows to clear her street on Oct. 27. She finally reached
her agency at midday.
An early storm dumped nearly two feet of snow on the Denver
area, shutting down the airport for a good part of last weekend,
then moved east to make life miserable for travelers in other
areas, including Omaha, Neb., and Des Moines, Iowa.
Shannon said Professional Travel could not staff its Denver
Airport office on Saturday because the main airport access road was
closed and employees were trapped at home, anyway. Agents managed
to get to the airport on Sunday and divided the crowd into two
lines -- one for Professional Travel's clients, predominantly
business travelers, and the other for vacation travelers who were
not the agency's clients but had been stuck at the airport and were
desperate for assistance, Stewart said. At the peak of the crisis,
the wait in line was about 45 minutes, Stewart said.
In the meantime, the agency's toll-free after-hours line was
deluged, logging more than 250 calls during one 24-hour period.
"That was just unbelievable," Stewart said. The good news, she
said, was that the agency's reservations center was fully staffed
on Monday morning.
Because of the uncertainties about road conditions, the agency
was advising customers who were using paper air tickets rather than
electronic ticketing to pick up tickets at the airport location
rather than try their luck with delivery services, Stewart said.
"We have discovered that an airport location is extremely
valuable," she said.
Elsewhere, the effects of the storm were clearly illustrated by
the message on one agency's answering machine: "Due to the storm in
Omaha, we are without power; if this is an emergency, please call
our after-hours service."
Another Omaha agency, Travel and Transport, did not have the
same problem, but "it was a very busy weekend for our after-hours
service," said Frank Dinovo, the agency's president. Dinovo said he
went to bed Saturday night amid local weather predictions of two or
three inches of snow and a quick melt. "I woke up and there was a
foot of snow on the ground," he said.
Dinovo said the agency had to worry about clients stuck in
Denver as well as many clients whose plans to fly out of Omaha and
Des Moines were stymied by Mother Nature. Travel and Transport
doubled its after-hours staff for the emergency, "and that still
wasn't enough," Dinovo said.
"It got pretty bad at about 4 a.m. Sunday [with the] calls
coming in. We were scrambling around trying to find people to come
in," he said. "Tree limbs were down all over the place. Just
getting people into work for the emergency shift was a