Love Story

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Earlier this year, I was a judge in Holland America Line's I Love My Travel Agent contest.

Clients were invited to write essays on the reasons they loved their agents, and HAL staff selected the 20 or so best for review by a panel of outside judges. I was to choose the three I thought did the best job of illustrating the value of agents to the customer. The essay getting the most votes would be the winner.

The top vote-getter described an episode that was so amazing I wondered if it was true. Margaret Stair told the following story about Charles Slater, co-owner of Expressions Cruise Center in Waukesha, Wis.

Her birth certificate had disappeared, but she had to have it to board an HAL cruise to Mexico. However, it was a January Saturday, one day before departure, and snow was forecast. It seemed Margaret would miss a cruise with children and grandchildren.

Her birth certificate was at the Trempealeau County Courthouse, 240 miles away and closed for the weekend. Charles used the library to find phone numbers for county officials, and contacted the registrar of deeds, who agreed to prepare a certified copy of the missing certificate.

What next? Charles shoveled his private plane out of a snowdrift and flew Margaret, 73; her husband, Homer, 80, and agent Michelle Frangesch to Eau Claire, rented a car and drove the group 50 miles to Whitehall for the certificate.

So, Margaret said, "We celebrated our anniversary with a wonderful cruise because our agent would not allow us to let go of that dream." (Margaret had previously ordered a new copy of her birth certificate, due by express mail, but it did not show up.)

I had to call this agent. Yes, he is a pilot, and he owns a plane. He normally uses it for recreation or in connection with another business. (He is an architect, too.)

His non-Airlines Reporting Corp. agency is only 3 years old and sits in a card and gift shop that he also operates. Charles said his setup works very well at attracting first-time cruisers.

I was impressed that he took his little plane out on a winter day, but he said, "We could have driven." The hardest thing was convincing the official to go to the courthouse on Saturday.

And, I had to ask: No, there was no service fee for all this. "It was enough," he said, "to know [Margaret] could travel. It was a wonderful feeling to come through."

Margaret's essay reaped a free HAL cruise for two and the same for her agent. They, with spouses, will travel together, probably in Europe. Is this a good story or what?

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