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April 24, 1997

Dark Skies
Copyright 1997 - Greg Bulmash - All Rights Reserved

Earlier this month, the deadline to file our taxes came and went in the U.S. As it approached, people ran to their accountants like sinners running to priests on judgement day, and they thanked whatever deity they believe in that the accountant was there to help. I believe this is unfair.

There is a professional who works every day at saving people money, doing complicated math, and consulting tables more arcane than any tax authority could ever invent. That person is the often unappreciated travel agent, getting us a good deal on airfare.

Sure there are these great fares advertised in the newspaper, but have you ever read the fine print? Los Angeles to New York, non-stop, only $119 each way... problem is that you must book three years in advance, it's only valid on flights leaving on Tuesdays and requires a Monday stay-over, you can't check any luggage, your name cannot begin or end in the letter P, and within six months you must take a vacation to South America and carry back a small parcel for a guy named Ernesto.

Go ahead. Call up the airlines to get a ticket...

Me: "I'd like to fly from Los Angeles to Seattle on Friday evening."

Airline: "That will be $378 each way."

Me: "Wow. That's a little steep."

Airline: "Well, we are running a special. If you leave at 5 a.m. on Thursday morning and fly out to Denver, it's only $59 dollars."

Me: "But I don't want to go to Denver."

Airline: "Wait. I'm not finished. In Denver you have a 10 hour layover, and then you can fly to Atlanta for only $86."

Me: "But I don't want to go to Atlanta."

Airline: "Would you hold your horses, cowboy? I'm not finished. After a 6 hour layover in Atlanta, you could take a red-eye to Houston for $59, but you'll be on standby."

Me: "What does standby mean?"

Airline: "If we can sell all the seats on the plane for more than you're paying, you'll have to stand by and watch the plane leave without you."

Me: "Oh."

Airline: "As I was saying... after a nine hour layover in Houston, if you get there, you can take an afternoon flight to Portland for $49. Then, if your flight isn't delayed, you'll arrive in time to run across the terminal and catch a commuter flight to Seattle for $59 which would have you there at 9:47 pm."

Me: "Okay. Forget that it takes me two days and five planes. That plan has me flying like three times as far as the distance from Los Angeles to Seattle. How can it be cheaper?"

Airline: "That's for us to know and you to find out. [click]"

It's only when you call your travel agent that you find that Airline B is running a commuter special from Los Angeles to Portland for $59 which will allow you to catch Airline A's $59 commuter flight to Seattle and you'll only need to leave an hour earlier than if you took the $378 non-stop.

So, while the rest of you are breathing a sigh of relief over the end of tax season and thanking your personal deity for your accountant, I shall sing the praises of the unsung hero of the battle to wade through through this ever-growing plague of nonsense. Thank God for the travel agent.


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