Steve Burnell remembers his first travel job at International Travel in Stoney Creek, ON.
“The role was mostly stamping brochures [and] getting coffee at first,” Burnell recalls, “but then I got promoted to the person responsible for hand writing all of the tickets the office sold.”
That was back in 1986. “Anyone who remembers handwriting tickets will know what I’m talking about,” Burnell continues. “I still have a ‘groove’ on my right index finger from all of that writing!”
Burnell has come a long way since his ticket-writing days. Today, he is a senior support specialist in agency sales and distribution at Porter Airlines, a position he’s held for eight years that “helps resolve escalated issues or questions” from the airline’s travel agency partners and suppliers.
“My role is to help identify and bridge gaps in our processes and educate those involved,” says Toronto-based Burnell, who works closely with Porter’s stakeholders to ensure “things run as smoothly as possible.”
Before getting into the airline biz, Burnell worked in leisure travel, wholesale, consolidation, corporate sales and he has led many teams. “I love this industry!” says Burnell. “I have jet fuel in my blood and there is nothing else I would rather be doing.”
Here, PAX checks in with Burnell to chat about driving through the French Alps, a memorable 10-course meal, and that time he saw a gate agent that may (or may not) have been Naomi Campbell's sister.
PAX: What are three essential items you always travel with?
Steve Burnell (SB): Toothbrush (even just from home to work), lip balm and a sample of my favorite cologne at that moment!
PAX: What are some of your favourite vacation spots?
SB: The only "spot" that is a constant for me is England – Yorkshire, to be exact. It's where I was born 29 years ago and is home to me. My family, the food, the rolling green landscape and the chocolate – it makes me so happy and at peace being there.
Cruises would be my next choice because I like the different views you get every day from your balcony. Cruising allows you to experience different places, cultures, people and food all in one trip without having to pack and unpack every day. My favourite islands are Martinique, Puerto Rico, Nassau and St. Martin. I am hoping to get down to the Antilles next year as I've never been that far south on a cruise. I am thinking Celebrity, sooo if anyone from Celebrity is reading this...*hint hint*
PAX: What’s your favourite airport and why?
SB: Well, that’s easy - Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport. Honestly! YTZ has spoiled me for travelling through any other airport. Less congestion makes for a more relaxing journey and the addition of restaurants and other vendors to the new spacious lounges makes it even better. Washington Dulles (IAD) would definitely be my next choice. It is so retro and modern at the same time. I actually want to fly down just for the day so I can take my time and explore the airport. I’m a big aviation geek and seeing all of the different carriers and aircraft types is very exciting to me.
PAX: What do you love about your job? The travel industry?
SB: Both are complex and ever-evolving. Both keep me on my toes. I love that I get to work with very like-minded individuals everyday who all try to go the extra mile for our passengers. I’m proud of the product and the service we deliver and I like to think that it rubs off on the interactions I have with my travel agents and co-workers. The industry is night and day from when I first started. But it's still exciting and different all the time.
PAX: What was the first vacation you ever took?
SB: It wasn't a vacation but it was definitely memorable. I was a travel agent at Rider Travel and was chosen to be part of a FAM of Canadian Travel Agents hosted by the French Tourist Board. YYZ to CDG on Air Canada in J class one way, one night in Paris, then we drove ourselves in groups of three (I was the driver) through the French Alps to Grenoble for a night, then onto Nice, Cannes and Monaco for the remaining three nights. It was fantastique! The food and the wine were spectacular (it was the Beaujolais nouveau) and the people were so amazing. Truly one of the most memorable trips I have ever had and probably could never afford to reproduce. It was top of the line the whole way.
PAX: What’s the biggest splurge you’ve ever made on a trip?
SB: I bought a fantastic digital camera on my first cruise with MSC back in 2007 when we were docked in St. Martin...I wonder what ever happened to that camera?
PAX: What’s your most memorable meal you ever eaten while travelling?
SB: It has to be in Grenoble in the French Alps on that trip I mentioned. It was my introduction to gastronomy and how each course and wine pairing complimented the other. It was 10 courses with a different wine each course. I could have jogged back to the hotel after. I was full and very happy. Of course everyone knows about gastronomy now, but to a 23-year-old back then, (yes six years ago!), I was fascinated with the care and detail that went into every dish presented.
PAX: What’s your biggest travel pet peeve?
SB: Lineups at security. Thankfully I work at YTZ so I don’t experience that much here. And when I am travelling elsewhere, I have my Nexus card that helps me breeze through security.
PAX: Do you have any hidden talents?
SB: I think I am a very decent cook. Both my brother, uncle and cousin are trained chefs so it kind of runs in the family. This exposure to cooking has led me to understand and appreciate subtle flavours and how they complement one another.
PAX: Checked bag or carry-on?
SB: Checked, I'm too lazy to carry anything. Unless it's just a quick turn or weekend.
PAX: What's your funniest travel anecdote?
SB: I always get a laugh when I tell this story. I once said to a stunning gate agent at Air Canada: "Gasp! Could it be?? Naomi Campbell's sister is a gate agent at Air Canada!?” She looked up at me, threw her pen down and said with a smirk on her face: "What'ya want?"...I got upgraded to J class that day.
PAX: What should travel agents know right now about Porter?
SB: Porter has a lot of helpful tools and information available on flyporter.com/agent, as well as the ability to self-manage any IROPs with the ability to create their own waiver and how to use it. This will save a lot of time on an outbound call, especially with the weather we have had lately.