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Apr 3, 2013 7:16 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Travel Agent Still Booking Flights At 85 Years Old

Apr 10, 2013 8:18 AM

From the comfort of her home office in Shinnecock Hills, surrounded by papers on her desk and the sound of her fingers clacking away on the keyboard, 85-year-old Nina Kraus sends people all over the world. The seasoned travel agent knows all the tricks of the trade and doesn’t plan on retiring anytime soon.

Typing code—what looks like a foreign language—into her airline ticketing system, Ms. Kraus pulled up flight information for a trip to Florida on a recent Friday afternoon.

“You have to know all the codes,” she said as she evaluated the price for each outgoing flight. “The industry has become very electronic. There are no more tickets, but I always give my passengers an itinerary.”

Ms. Kraus, who has traveled to more than a dozen countries in her lifetime, said much of her business is airline ticketing, but she also books cruises. Just last month, she booked 30 to 40 plane tickets and recently reserved cabins on cruises to Alaska, the Caribbean and Barcelona, Spain.

“I know my ships,” she said laughing. “It’s a very funny business. Sometimes the phone doesn’t ring for two, three or four days and then all of a sudden, it’s like the cockroaches are out of the woodwork. It gets busy when I have decided I have to do something.”

Ms. Kraus said that she still believes her job as a travel agent is valuable, despite the popularity of travel websites, where businesses and families can plan out their own trips. “The human element isn’t there as much anymore, but that is why some people still like to use a travel agent,” she said. “Sometimes I feel like a doctor, they call me at all hours.”

Unfortunately, Ms. Kraus’s clients can’t blame different time zones for some of their untimely calls. Most of her clients live on Long Island, in New Jersey and in New York City. Ms. Kraus said her most loyal customer is a man who now lives in California. She said she has been booking his trips for 25 years. “He was always a first-class client—when he went on vacation he got the best hotels—but I never met him,” she said, noting that a dentist in New York City referred him to her. “I know his love life. I booked him when he was first married, then divorced, then met other women that didn’t work out, and then when he met somebody else in California. He travels to China several times a year, first class.”

Ms. Kraus said that travel agents do not get commission from airlines anymore for booking flights, and that the commission she makes on making other travel arrangements is enough to pay the gas bill and take her children out to dinner. “It’s worth it to me—I’m not in it anymore for the money,” she said. “It does give me something to do and it’s no big effort.”

Nowadays, Ms. Kraus doesn’t work full-time planning out trip details and talking to airlines and cruise companies on the phone like she did when she owned her own travel agency, Bonjour.

After her husband, John, took travel business classes and pulled her into the business, the two of them opened up their own company in Uniondale, where they lived. Ms. Kraus had been an elementary school teacher in Nassau County and raised three boys, Jamie, Jeffrey and John Scott, before she became a full-time travel agent.

In 1986, she and her husband opened Bonjour’s doors and reopened in October 1989 after they bought a new office building. Mr. Kraus died that November after battling cancer. Despite the tragedy, Ms. Kraus continued on with the business for 18 years.

“When I had my own agency, I would sit at my desk for 12 to 14 hours sometimes,” she said. “I put my heart and soul into it. I worked hard.”

She said airlines used to have big sales and there would be “big warfare” for $70 round-trip tickets. During those times, the phone didn’t stop ringing and she booked until 4 a.m., she said.

Just before the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, business started to take a downturn, she said, and only got worse after that. The internet rapidly became a primary means of booking and travel planning.

In 2002, Ms. Kraus closed up shop and begina working for Top Shelf Travel in Baldwin. She moved to Shinnecock Hills permanently in 2009 and works from home. Ms. Kraus’s sons, Jamie and Jeffrey, are what brought her here, she said. John Scott lives in New Mexico.

Even though she could close out her ticketing system and put away her contacts, Ms. Kraus said there’s something to sticking with it.

“I get delighted when people are happy,” she said. “It’s really a service that I’m providing, and they appreciate it and that makes me feel good. And when you feel good, you live longer, even though you have pains and aches.”

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