The travel industry has seen a lot of changes in the last two decades. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of full-time travel agents in the U.S. dropped from a high of 124,000 in 2000 to around 74,000 in 2014. The business model of travel agencies has changed, mostly due to the rise of online booking but also due to the popularity of telecommuting, which has rendered many business trips unnecessary.
More recently, there’s been talk of the travel industry bouncing back as the economy recovers. Based on a survey of 14,000 households, the American Society of Travel Agents reports that it is currently seeing the highest numbers of consumers booking through travel agents in three years. The most common reason provided for doing so? Travelers said it saved them time. Though travel agencies’ business isn’t expected to return to pre-internet levels, online booking has, even as it has flourished, shown travelers the frustrations that can come with booking travel themselves—and that outsourcing the stress of arranging travel can be worthwhile.
Kerl Commock lives in Orlando. She’s been working as a travel agent for over 30 years and currently works at Balboa Travel, a California travel agency that has been in the business for nearly half a century. For The Atlantic’s series of interviews with American workers, I spoke with Commock about the stresses of booking travel, TSA lines, and the rise of online booking. The interview that follows has been lightly edited for length and clarity.