In last week’s episode of “Mad Men,” “The Field Trip,” Betty Francis (January Jones) catches up with an old friend, Francine Hanson (Anne Dudek). It’s now 1969, but Betty is still playing the role of a 1950s housewife, while her friend has an exciting — or, in Betty’s words, “spicy” — career as a travel agent.
Francine enthusiastically describes her career as a storefront travel agent at Wanderlust Travel. // © 2014 AMC
For a profession that many claim has been totally reinvented because of the Internet, the differences between Francine’s portrayal of a travel agent and the modern day travel agent are interesting.
For one, Betty is fascinated by Francine’s depiction of office life. Francine works in a shopping center storefront — “a bunch of desks,” she says — in Dobbs Ferry, New York.
“Everyone is on the phone all the time so you have to keep one finger in your ear,” Francine says. “I have three phones and no secretary: sometimes I can’t turn my neck when I get home.”
Parts of that description may still strike a nerve for many travel agents, but other similarities reveal what we can learn from Francine. A success even by today’s standards, she works three days a week, describes her job as a “challenge” and a “reward” and shares that the money is so good that her husband doesn’t even mind that she is working (what a guy!).
4 Reasons Francine Is a Successful Travel Agent (bright orange pant suit not included):
- She reaches out to her network and her friends’ network: she hands Betty not one, but several business cards with her name and contact information (though no social media platforms to be found here.)
- When Betty says that her husband’s secretary takes care of their travel plans, Francine persists: “But she still has to book through somebody.”
- She’s vocal about her value and she's not shy about contesting misconceptions: “Trust me — it’s not all about breaking the rack rate on a hotel room,” she tells Betty.
- Her clients’ satisfaction is paramount, and she is happy to share their feedback: “It’s about perfection. One of my clients told me I redefined his definition of first class.”
By the end of the conversation, it's clear that Betty feels like she is missing out on something exciting. Even after all these years, it seems that some things haven't changed: those with misconceptions about travel agents continue to miss out, while being a travel agent continues to be a special (er, spicy) career choice.