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CNN Today

Airline Labor Problems Compound Holiday Travel Crunch

Aired December 15, 2000 - 2:22 p.m. ET


JOIE CHEN, CNN ANCHOR: Oh, don't let this be you. Crowded airports and flight delays can try the patience of even the most seasoned travelers. With a little more than a week before Christmas, the travel crunch is quite upon us. And this year, airline labor problems are compounding the problem. Delta's ongoing squabbles with its pilots' union is just one example.

Travel expert Thom Nulty joins us now from Denver. He's the president of Navigant International, which specializes in corporate travel, and he joins us to offer some tips on how we're supposed to cope with all of this.

Now, Thom, it's not just Delta. I mean, there are a whole bunch of airlines this time around that are facing difficulties with their labor unions?

THOM NULTY, PRESIDENT, NAVIGANT INTERNATIONAL: There are. United Airlines continues to have problems with its mechanics and with some of its groundworkers. American Airlines still having difficulty with flight attendants, and even Southwest Airlines, labor's favorite, is having trouble with some its groundworkers at this point.

CHEN: Now, it's not just start-up airline carriers that we're talking about here. You were talking about some rally big names. Do you fly both start-ups and big-name carriers?

NULTY: You know, I fly just about everybody. I fly just about every day of the week. So, I'll be on everybody at one time or another, but it is the traditional airlines that are having the labor problem, but some of the airline, the start-ups are having financial problems. So, it's a little rough out there for some of the carriers right now.

CHEN: Talk about some rough air. OK, so, if your airline cancels a flight, does the airline have an obligation to put you on the next available flight? Is that your problem? I mean, who's supposed to work that out?

NULTY: Well, you know, there's many ways to work that out, and could a little bit of everybody's problem because the next flight may already be full with passengers that have reservations on that flight. So, there are a lot of alternatives that need to be looked at if flights are canceled, and the smart traveler will do many, many things including calling their travel agent to see if they can't help them out if they find themselves in a jam.

CHEN: Well, this is the experience I've had before. As you're standing there at the gate and all of a sudden they come on and they say oh, there's been a delay. Now, am I supposed to jump the phone and call the agent, the airline? Who should I call?

NULTY: You know, that's what I usually do. I usually jump on the phone and call our emergency 800-number service, and they in turn will try and help me out. That's probably the smartest thing. One of the last things on Earth you want to is get in one of those giant lines that you see in the airport. I was in O'Hare Airport in Chicago the other day and I bet the line was a quarter-mile long and people were just trying to get up to see the agent to talk about changing flights when they really could have done the same thing on the telephone.

CHEN: So, the smart, savvy traveler runs off and does this before anybody else figures out that they can go. Now, would I be better off like going back to the main terminal and doing it at that gate? Can I do it on the phone? Would I be better off with the travel agent or with airline itself? Come on, give all the secrets away.

NULTY: OK, the real secret -- the real secret is you get in the closest line but you've got your cell phone with you get on the cell phone and you start calling as well. So, you really are able to kill two birds with one stone and if for some reason you can't get through on the telephone, you're already in line. So, the really smart business travelers, that's what they do.

CHEN: Yes, you know, I always get the line jammed when that happens. OK, so you've got a quick little rundown here of some others tips you can offer our travelers.

NULTY: Yes, during the holiday season there are going to be several things that people can do. One is try and use public transportation going to and from the airport. Having friends and relatives either pick you up or take you to the airport is not a good thing during the holiday season. Parking is terrible. Traffic is terrible. So find some other way: train, bus, taxi, limo.

Try some other way to get there. Carry-on bags. Limit your carry-on bags. Don't bring a lot of them with you. The planes are going to be full. The luggage spaces are full. Use that underseat space for your legs. You may need it on some of these longer flights, especially if they are delayed.

Never bring wrapped Christmas presents as carry-on luggage. If they see something suspicious as it's going through security, they may actually make you open the package up, and that certainly would not be something you want to do.

Bring some snacks with you. If you find yourself on a delayed flight, you'll find that the airlines don't feed you much to begin with, and a little snack -- one of your favorite snacks could come in really, really handy. That's an especially good idea if you're traveling with children, And don't use up all the snacks before you actually get to the gate, either, because sometimes those delays can actually take place at your destination. You can actually arrive there, and not actually get to a gate. You sit out there sometimes for hours waiting for a place to park the plane. So, hang onto those snacks.

Wear clothing that you'd be comfortable sleeping in.

CHEN: That's very dismal, isn't it?

NULTY: Sometimes, that something you may have to do. So, be prepared. Bring books, CDs, games, things like that, and mark your luggage.

Mark it so you know it's your luggage. Put a big red x on it or yellow x or your initials or something, because everybody's bags look the same, and in those crowded baggage claim areas it's really easy to take the wrong bag home. And don't ask me how I know that. I, unfortunately, know that one from personal experience.

Make sure the airlines have your telephone number in your reservation record. They actually do a pretty good job of calling people when the flights are canceled or delayed, but if they don't have a phone number for you, they can't do that. And that means having the number at home and the number you're going to be at at your destination for the holiday.

And the last one is one we've talked about for a few minutes. Companies like Navigant, we operate 800-numbers and so do all the other major travel agencies. We have 24-hour staff. Those people are there to help our travelers. So, don't get in one of those giant lines. Call for help. They can generally do the same thing that the airport agent can do.

CHEN: All right, well, Thom is the guy you're going to see in the airport wearing his PJ's in case he has to sleep there later on. Thom, I'm going to ask you to stand by. Later on in this program, Thom's going to take your calls and your questions about how to deal with travel crunch problems. Here's the telephone number for you to call. Get lined up now -- 404-221-1855. See Thom back in a little bit.



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