In addition to his consumer advocacy work, he is also a very accomplished journalist. We have followed his career since the late 1990’s (he has been online since the early 1990’s). Recently we reached out to him with some questions – with an interesting reply about finding meaning and purpose in one’s life and how he has become an accomplished journalist.
Q. You have built a career upon helping consumers – when did this start? Was there a specific situation where you helped someone early in your career that perhaps made you realize, ‘aha, helping people feels good and perhaps I could turn this into a career’?
Yes. It was a case involving an X-ray scanner and film, back in ’98 or ’99. Remember film? I experienced a minor “Eureka” moment, where I found an answer but also helped a reader avoid a problem of having her vacation photos ruined. That’s when I said to myself, “Aha, I can do more than write about this. I can help my readers.”
Q. Sometimes it can feel overwhelming to go up against a larger company when you are having service problems with that business – describe how your services can help those who are in this situation.
My advocacy practice is all about empowering consumers — giving them the tools and information they need to fix any problem. I’ve always said that you are your best advocate. But there are times when you need help. I have a team of volunteer advocates who work with me. If you have an intractable case — not just in travel, but for any business — we’ll do our best to help.
Q. Can you tell us what has been one of the more challenging and perhaps lengthy consumer cases you have fought for (travel related)?
It was a US Airways case. Remember US Airways? This happened on a flight from Bermuda to Philadelphia more than 10 years ago. A flight attendant had forcibly gate-checked a bag that contained valuables, which were then pilfered. The airline refused to replace them, citing its contract of carriage, the legal agreement between the airline and passenger. After a long, brutal and very messy fight, the airline compensated the passenger. But the company had its revenge. It persuaded one of my outlets to end my column. I’ve since been rehired, so it was a short-lived victory. Oh, and the airline no longer exists. That’s gotta count for something, too.
Q. What is Travelers United? Is this non profit focused on similar consumer advocacy issues as your own work but on a larger scale?
Travelers United is a nonprofit advocacy group focused on making better laws and regulation for travelers in Washington. I’m proud to have co-founded the organization, but I am no longer actively involved with it. They are doing good work in DC.
Q. It is been our experience that life is more rewarding when you follow your passion – finding something you really love to do, sometimes with the challenge of turning it into a viable business. What advice can you tell people who are looking to make a career change to something more personally rewarding?
Look, most people are perfectly content to have a 9-to-5 job, be a productive member of society, and take an occasional vacation. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.
But some people want more. They want meaning and purpose. That’s not always easy to find. First, you have to figure out what would give your life meaning. Then you need to determine how to live your life with a sense of purpose. Most of us are still stuck on the first problem — figuring out what would give your life meaning. By the way, travel is almost never the correct answer.
On this adventure, you are in a constant state of change. If you’re comfortable with uncertainty and risk, then you can make this journey. But if you need a regular paycheck, love being home surrounded by friends and family and take comfort in the institutions around you, my advice is: stay home. You’ll probably thank me.
Q. Your online presence dates back to some of the earlier days of the Internet – considering the first domain name (website) ever was registered in 1985 and you started biztravel.com in 1994. Tell us a little about biztravel, the Internet’s first business travel website.
I was there at the beginning. Early 90s. It was pretty exciting. I had just come off a stint as the business travel editor at a large trade publication. I met another entrepreneur who like the content I’d been posting online and he asked me to edit the site. I believe they were calling it “The Business Traveler Online.” I suggested they shorten it to Biztravel.com.
Q. Those cursorily familiar with your consumer advocacy work may not realize you have a prolific career as a journalist – writing for major
publications. How did you begin and expand your journalism work?
One story at a time. I’m up at 5 a.m. every day and often work until late in the evening. I just keep churning out stories and pitching editors with ideas when everyone else has gone home. People have asked me if I have any special connections or friends in high places, but the truth is, I just work as hard as I can and I don’t take the rejections personally. I just tune them out and keep going.
Q. Your family spends significant time on the road – documented here: www.awayishome.com (founded 2010). Can you give us a description of a specific humorous moment (story or event) that your family personally experienced during your travels?
Every trip is filled with laugh-out-loud moments when you’re traveling with three kids. I remember taking the children to a Cirque du Soleil dinner on an NCL cruise ship a few years ago. They were still jetlagging, and even though I found the acts to be impressive, the kids preferred to sleep. They dozed off in our arms, ignoring the entrees, deserts and the tightrope walkers overhead. We returned to our cabin with two kids, both of which we carried the length of the ship. Just as I closed the door, I asked Kari where our oldest son was. “I don’t know,” she said. “I thought you had him.” I didn’t have him. He was still sleeping at our table. We found him there, surrounded by the staff who were cleaning up the dining hall for the next dinner seating. We still laugh about that one. When our son threatens to join the circus, we say, “You’ve already done that!”
Q. You currently call Orlando “home” when you are not traveling – what are some of your favorite activities that you would recommend to a first time visitor to this city?
We have a few good theme parks that are worth checking out!
Christopher Elliott is an author, consumer advocate and journalist. His investigative reporting, sometimes against seemingly insurmountable obstacles, has earned him a reputation as “every consumer’s best friend.”
In more than two decades as a journalist, he has either worked at or appeared in almost every A-list outlet.
He founded Elliot.org in 1997 with the mission to empower consumers to solve their service problems and to help those who can’t.