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Thom Nulty Gives a Primer on Surviving Holiday Travel

Aired December 15, 2000 - 4:40 p.m. ET


JOIE CHEN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. So now it is time to take your phone calls, as promised, with your questions about beating the holiday travel crunch. It could be tough this year.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, it could be intense, and we have travel expert Thom Nulty with us. Once again, he's the president of Navigant International, and we have a call for you, Thom, from Florida.

Go ahead, Florida.

CALLER: Hello. I was trying to get out of West Palm Beach International Airport today on a Delta flight. They kept delaying it and delaying it, and then they told us there was a part that was missing from the cockpit that they had to fly in.

A long story short, there were three Delta flights trying to get out at the same time, all of them had malfunctions with the planes. And I think something's going on here other than parts missing.

WATERS: I've heard that before myself, Thom, that sometimes they make up the fact that there's something wrong with the plane when there really isn't.

CHEN: And everybody is always very suspicious anyway.

THOM NULTY, PRESIDENT, NAVIGANT INTERNATIONAL: Well, you know, one of my rules has always been I never want to get in an airplane that I don't think is safe, and I think that's good advice. And I have to leave it to the officials to tell me whether it's safe.

Having said that, however, it's possible that due to some of the labor issues that they're having and some of the things that they may be stopping the flight for maybe are things that they shouldn't. It might not be that horribly critical, but the pilots, because they want to send a message to the company, might be making it just a little bit more difficult than they should.

WATERS: If the flight isn't as full as the airline would like, would that be another reason of coming up with perhaps an excuse not to run the flight?

NULTY: You know, they generally don't do that, mostly because there are very few flights that are aren't that full anywhere. Flights are packed just about all the time. And on top of that, the airplanes usually have something they're supposed to do at the other end. So it's really unlikely that they ever actually cancel a flight because they don't have a full load factor, because they probably need it somewhere else where they do have a full flight.

CHEN: Well, we talked about whether you as a traveler have any recourse if your flight is delayed and delayed and delayed this way. And what happens if you're trying to make a connection?

NULTY: Well, you know, it all depends on really the situation and how it happened. You know, weather and other things, sometimes acts of god, are sort of your responsibility, and certainly the airlines do everything they can to accommodate you, because they don't want to have an unhappy customer and they don't want to have you sitting around the airport. So they do everything they can.

But because of the way they've scheduled these airplanes all around the country, it is almost impossible for them to hold an airplane for a connection because it's actually expected somewhere else and there's this domino effect if they don't move the airplanes when they're supposed to. So people generally won't wait.

WATERS: These labor problems that you were talking about earlier, are there any airlines that should be especially cautious about because of the labor problems? When I think of labor problems on the ground with an airline, I think of possible safety problems with that airline?

NULTY: You know, I don't think anybody's going to compromise safety. Even the unions when they're very, very angry with the company, they don't want to be the cause of any accident.

But I do think that they can certainly make travel miserable for you. During the summer months, we saw what United Airlines' pilots were capable of doing to travelers, canceling hundreds and hundreds of flights every day. And personally -- and personally, I was very inconvenienced during the summer while traveling and a lot of other people were too.

You're starting to see the same thing happening at Delta Airlines right now. They're really following what they learned from United, and they're doing the same thing. And United continues to have some problems with their mechanics, although they've had great improvement since their troubles of the summer.

WATERS: Well, what do you think about the apparent negotiating over the backs of passengers?

NULTY: Well, you know, as a passenger I certainly don't like it. And I don't think it's fair. And I think it's really kind of the Grinch's attitude toward Christmas. I can't even imagine that labor unions would spoil someone's Christmas with their family because they were trying to send a message to the company. But it's possible.

So personally, I dislike it, but I understand it.

CHEN: Thom, we have another call or the line from Florida, again. Caller, go ahead.

CALLER: Hi, Thom.

NULTY: Hello.

CALLER: I would like to know the 800 number that you use when you have a flight delay.

NULTY: You know, I'm not going to give it on the air, because it's an 800 number that's really for customers who actually have purchased the ticket from Navigant International. But many -- most major travel agencies do offer 800 numbers, and it's generally printed on your itinerary if you've purchased your ticket through a travel agent. And I would suggest that you take a look at that.

And even if you haven't bought your ticket from a travel agent -- bought it from the airline -- think about calling the airline's 800 number instead of standing in line at the airport.

WATERS: It looks like a lot of people trying to get out of Florida today after the excitement is over down there. But we do have a call for you, Thom, from Georgia. Go ahead, Georgia.

CALLER: Yes. On these electronic tickets, I just read in the paper that we should get paper tickets and change them over. I called Delta, which is the carrier, and they said that we still have to get in that line, even if do you this business over the telephone to change the reservation in order to have it transferred over to another carrier. What is your recommendation?

NULTY: Well, when you -- when you do transfer it to another carrier, you generally have to have a paper ticket. So your electronic ticket isn't much good if you're actually going to go on another airline. If you're transferring from one airline's flight to that same airline but another flight, the electronic ticket is easily transferred.

So you're -- they're right about that, and sometimes I recommend that people don't utilize your electronic tickets during bad weather and maybe even labor problems. We learned that this summer with United when they were canceling so many flights. They were actually recommending that people try and get a paper ticket, because they are much easier to take over to another airline.

WATERS: It Looks like we have someone else trying to get out of Florida, Thom. Go ahead.


CHEN: You'd think everyone would want to go to Florida .


Go ahead, Florida.

CALLER: Hi, Thom. NULTY: Hello.

CALLER: Yes, hey, Thom. I'm an airport police officer in an airport here in Florida, and I just wanted to thank you tremendously for the advice that you're giving these passengers, because as police officers, particularly during this time of year, it helps us out tremendously: when we have passengers that are upset and they don't know what to do. And you know, nine times out of 10 they come to us before they do the airlines.

So I would again, on behalf of all the airport police in Florida, I'd like to thank you.

NULTY: Well, thank you very much. You know, the police do a wonderful job of maintaining civility at the airports. I've watched customers get out of hand because they get overly frustrated.

Traveling can be very, very difficult, especially during the holidays. So another good piece of advice to travelers is don't let it upset you. You will eventually get there. Things will work out. Getting upset does not help you at all, especially in a mechanical situation or something like that. Just take it easy.

The airlines do want to get you there, and they will.

CHEN: All right. Thom Nulty, Navigant International, joining us. We appreciate you being with us today, Thom.

NULTY: My pleasure.

CHEN: Taking our viewers' calls.



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