Following the major earthquakes in Japan in March, the U.S. government issued a ban on travel to the country. The ban was recently lifted, and Brookhaven Lab's Travel Services group can now resume booking Photon Sciences (PS) Directorate staff on trips to Japan, home of the SPring-8 synchrotron.
Travel Services is widely praised throughout PS for its consistent hard work and "above and beyond" attitude when it comes to its customers.
When the earthquakes happened, for example, one PS staff member was in Japan. Travel Services was able to quickly rebook him on a flight out of Osaka rather than Tokyo, a move that spared him what could have been a very long delay.
Last year, when a volcano erupted in Iceland, spewing ash and smoke over a giant swath of airspace and forcing the cancellation of thousands of flights, several PS staff members were overseas. They were stuck – but not for long. Travel Services rerouted their flights with little delay and little fuss. Similarly, they intervene when travel plans are interrupted due to snowstorms, heavy rain, and other weather issues. (Considering this year's brutal winter, no small task!)
"We pride ourselves on our commitment to customer service," said Travel Services manager Sylvia Mouzakes. "We are more than your typical travel agency."
Given the large number of PS staff who regularly travel – the directorate's administrators have processed over 900 travel authorizations since October – and the continuing growth of the directorate and its travel needs, Travel Services is a key part of day-to-day business in PS.
"That number alone doesn't give you a clear picture of all the amazing work this very professional group does," said NSLS-II Administrative Professional Laura Miller. "They are extremely adept and patient, and work hard to find ways to accommodate changes without adversely affecting the traveler. I know I'm speaking for everyone in my group and all our travelers when I say we would be lost without them."
PS Administrative Assistant Barbara Moebes agrees, adding, "They are patient, understanding, accommodating, detail oriented, and, best of all, friendly."
In addition to Mouzakes, Travel Services is staffed by Patricia Johnson, Jody Maddock, Jane O'Brien-Fox, and Helen Savage. Through its contractual relationship with Omega World Travel, the group handles the usual travel agency activities – booking flights, rental cars, hotel rooms, etc. – but its services go much further. A huge advantage to working with them is their familiarity with the inner workings of the Lab and the Department of Energy. They know the rules and procedures for travel and let PS admins know what they can and cannot do. Always mindful of the budget of a government-owned institution, they seek out the least expensive fares.
Another key advantage is Travel Services' close relationships with PS staff. For example, the group keeps profiles of many PS travelers, recording their travel preferences with regard to hotel room type, flight seating, rental cars, etc. Their commitment to their customers means that potentially disastrous travel issues, such as lost tickets and baggage, are handled with more urgency than a typical travel agency.
Travel also helps arrange the many conferences and workshops that take place in the directorate, which requires booking blocks of hotel rooms for incoming guests and making other arrangements.
PS physicist Johan Bengtsson, who admits he is a "reluctant traveler," recently praised the group for easing the frustration of traveling, and his words do a good job of summing up the directorate's admiration for the Travel Services staff. "My interactions with Travel have always been a breath of fresh air," he said. "In fact, in my mind, this group stands as a model for quality service at the Lab."
— Laura Mgrdichian, Photon Sciences Science Writer