Initial years of my travel career

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Initial years of my travel career

My love of aircraft and travel started when I was three years old! My brother who was 4 and I climbed on to the gate posts of our home in Chennai and tried our best to catch an aircraft flying overhead. He gave up after a while but I being a stubborn brat, continued my attempts to prove that I could achieve my goal whereas he could not. To cut a long story short, I slipped and fell on a hedge which was being supported by a barbed wire. Needless to state, it created panic in the family and I was rushed to a hospital as I was bleeding profusely … I survived …though I have scars to remind me of my first tryst with aeroplanes!

Fast forward to 1980 when we had travelled to the USA through Trade Wings Ltd a premier and reputed travel agency. Post which the manager of this organisation, who had become a very good friend, offered me a job in the agency. I was not qualified for anything in particular so working in such a well established Organisation was a scary proposition. However, the manager was quite persistent. I was still apprehensive, quite unsure of how I would fare if indeed I did accede to his request. Here I need to mention that any course I started in the previous years always ended within a week … whether cookery classes, sewing, computer, etc. That was the maximum level of interest I had shown in anything so I was naturally scared to commit myself. But my husband who believed that I had the talent and flair to become a travel agent was successful in persuading me to join the agency in question. I caved in while convincing myself I could always leave if I wanted to.

When I informed my family members of my decision to work, I was greeted with the following reactions by mom … “you work for even one day and I will cut my nose “My brothers “ six months max “My kids were too young to care. I have in all probability given them ample reason to feel this way as I had never taken any project seriously. To be very honest the first year was tough. I had toyed with the idea of quitting but I definitely and desperately wanted to prove my family wrong! As the year went by, I discovered that I was enjoying the prospect of meeting people, finalising their travel schedule whether local, national and international …. each one’s requirement was different and therefore challenging…..I found it extremely exciting and this kept the adrenaline running high.

After the first year, I decided that I would plan my career ( like the government’s 5 year policy ), and review my career every 5 years … . I needed to have a goal post to stay focused. I would have perhaps continued till I had completed 40 years but quit after 37 to spend time with my mother who had been diagnosed with cancer. I lost her a year later. But I am so grateful that I could spend some quality time with her …. a strong and independent lady, with a keen sense of humour, ready to help anyone … in short … my role model.

I joined TWL in June 1981 as a sales executive. As I waited in the cabin of the manager I could see many smart and efficient looking ladies handling the ABC’s( travel books to check flights and fares ) and wondered if I could ever fit in and look as confident as they did. My only plus points at that time were that I was fairly articulate, had lived abroad for a while and had travelled quite a bit.

Some of the incidents that bring back memories of my first year in trade wings still manage to evoke a smile even today though at that time I was a nervous wreck !!
After a couple of weeks of joining, the manager asked me to issue a ticket and walked away. In those days the travel documents were manual tickets and handwritten. Mind you, I was not even trained to issue these. But at his insistence, I issued it and found that I had written the passenger named in the endorsement column which was wrong. So the ticket had to be “voided “. The accountant gave me another one to issue with great reluctance. Many colleagues hovered around me much to my discomfort. The smiles on their faces kind of indicated that they too must have been through this process. You can imagine my horror when in my nervousness I made the very same mistake again. I burst into tears embarrassed at my stupidity. One of the girls on witnessing my plight came to my rescue. She yelled at everyone for putting me in this situation without proper training! She remains a very good friend to this day.

Initial years of my travel career

After a couple of months, I went on a sales call to a Corporate house. The managing director of the company who I was meeting for the first time, turned out to be a classmate of my father. After exchanging some pleasantries he asked me a fare to some European destination. I told him I was fairly new in the travel business and was not sure. The question he asked me next ( and I could actually imagine my dad posing the same question ) was “ how long will you keep giving that as an excuse? “. This incident really put my priorities in proper perspective. I started to concentrate on fares and ticketing with the help of another colleague who really showed immense patience in teaching me the ropes. I am totally indebted to her. We are very much in touch even today. Would you believe that within a year I was in charge of the international ticketing division?

Another incident turned out to be the turning point in my career as a travel agent. I was asked to meet the Chairman of the largest company in those days. So armed with the ABC’s I showed up at his office around noon. He came out of his office to that of his secretary and shouted at me. I could not understand the reason for his anger but slowly was able to fathom that our manager ( who was leaving our organisation) had an appointment with him at 9 am. I was not intimated till 1130 by the manager to go meet the chairman. I still cannot believe how I managed to finalise the chairman’s travel and leave. I was so upset and even felt a little humiliated. I drove home and cried my heart out. I had a fairly sheltered upbringing and hence was overwhelmed by what had transpired. But once the tear ducts dried up I was able to think more clearly. I was able to comprehend the reason for the chairman’s outburst. He had nothing personal against me but was justifiably annoyed at my organisation for keeping him waiting. I then realised that my reaction would have been exactly the same had I been in his place. I then decided that if I cannot handle such situations I should not be in this profession. I took it as a challenge then to continue and ensure that I would not place myself in such a predicament again. Time is precious and this gentleman taught me this valuable lesson. Even though he is no more I am so grateful to him for all the support he gave me in the ensuing years when I took over as Manager. I will never forget him!

Another incident which occurred a couple of years later was when a passenger walked away on a Saturday morning with the passport of another of our clients ….by the oversight of course. She had mentioned to us that she was heading directly to the bus station as she was leaving town. Imagine our situation when we realised that she had taken away the passport of one of our most valued and well-travelled client. He had long term visas for many countries and was travelling on Monday. We went all the way to hell and back in those few hours. I was the first to calm down and tried to analyze the situation in a sane and sensible manner. Questioning my colleagues on what happened we worked out our strategy. We managed to locate her relatives one by one and finally with the help of her brother we were able to locate the passport in her apartment. Our other client was blissfully unaware of the turmoil and tension we went through … it was like being put through a washing machine and coming out all crumpled and worn out! It was indeed a relief that we were able to hand over his passport as planned on Saturday afternoon. We were happy that we were able to resolve the problem and had a peaceful night’s sleep. Needless to say, we were all pretty shaken by this incident but it trained us to be more alert and cautious and ensured that no repetition of this occurred again.

There are many courses available to learn fares and ticketing but not many actually tell you how to handle situations etc. So when I as the Manager, started to hire staff I used to emphasise that one has to be disciplined ( keep your appointments and deadlines ), be polite ( if you are not there are many other agents where the client could take their business to ), ensure to quote the most competitive fares ( all of us want the best prices for ourselves so why not they ?). Finally, be truthful to the client as well as yourself …. that is when they trust you and repose their faith in you

From working out itineraries and fares in the ’80s, travel by the time I retired in 2018, had changed immensely. With computerization, we began to lose the challenge of working on fares ( we used to compete within the office as to who could work the best fares). I began to miss the one on one discussion with the clients as this had given way to emails, messages etc. I can say that I saw the best years of the travel industry and quit at the right time when the industry itself was facing a major crisis and literally faced collapse starting March 2020 !!

Today when I look back at the 37 long years in the company I have such wonderful memories to fall back on. I have made some very good friends among my clients as well as colleagues who treat me like a family member. In some cases, I have done the travel of 4 generations of the same family… I have enjoyed every moment of my job …. no regrets. All those glorious memories are firmly etched in my mind. There are many many more incidents some stressful, many enjoyable ..in fact, enough material to write a few more articles but that will have to wait for now

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