This weekend, we have undoubtedly been reminded of the sacrifices that the victims of 9-11 made, the bravery of our first responders, and the bravery and valor of our military who continue to fight for the freedoms we come to expect. Over the years, I have penned several 9-11 remembrance columns and they were (and are) wholly appropriate. But what I have not done is to talk about some of the people who were standing on the sidelines ten years ago but making a huge contribution to the return to normalcy. The travel professional.
Now, before anyone jumps all over me, I do not mean to minimize any of the truly heroic efforts of the those on the front lines; but I do think that transportation was an industry that was hit harder than many and travel professionals were largely responsible for getting it back on track.
Back In 2001
I remember the day like yesterday. I remember immediately having no clue what the future implications for my business might be. But we didn’t have time to worry about that. We had clients who were counting on us. Thankfully, we had none on any of the involved planes. But when the FAA shut down the skies and landed thousands of planes in strange destinations with clueless passengers, it was an issue. We worked for three days getting people home or to their ultimate destination. It was difficult—he had one client rent a U-Haul from Atlanta (no car rentals were available), we had others bunker down in hotels (thanks to our consortia connections, we were able to access sold-out space), and we even chartered a private jet into Canada and had some clients met by motor-coach to return them to their loved ones. My staff truly performed miracles.
As it turned out, the event was only the beginning. If it could happen 4 times in one day, it could happen any time. Travel ground to a halt. Trips were canceled, and people refused to travel. Thankfully, at the time, we had a good corporate base which kept us afloat—business had to go on. But the travel suppliers leaned heavily on us to fill spaces on tours and berths on ships. And together, we worked to do just that. There were months (or maybe years…I try to forget) with ridiculously low prices (and commissions) in an attempt to lure the leisure traveler back into the travel waters. And while it was not immediate, we did turn the tide. Tours began to fill up and ships began to sail full. As a bonus, insurance sales (at least for us) went through the roof. And eventually, the pricing came back to “normal;” whatever that may be.
There is no doubt that 9-11 changed the landscape of the travel industry. While pricing is back on track, we are still reminded of our vulnerabilities each time we travel—we are groped for bombs, banned from bringing liquids, and subject to the whims of an arguably competent government agency—all in the name of National Security. This weekend we has several “incidents” in the sky. The most notable was the diversion of a Southwest flight into Nashville. Someone had a suspicion, a few hundred people were inconvenienced and delayed; and ultimately the suspicious one was free to go. The question on everyone’s mind is–was this a threat, or theater?
It really doesn’t matter. We do have a new normal for traveling and until we live in a world without enemies, we will continue to live with fear, vigilance, and security. And I don’t see that happening anytime soon.
But to my colleagues near and far, I do salute you. I know you all performed some extraordinary feats in the days, weeks, and months following 9-11. I know that you realized how essential travel was to the economy and our bruised psyche. I thank you for what you did and for what you continue to do on behalf of your clients today!
Do you have any stories to share about you 9-11 experience? Please leave a comment!