The media is full of stories of passengers being stuck for days with the flight cancellations back east, and of there being no available flights for many of these stranded travelers until New Year’s Day.

A friend of mine, who books her own travel online, posted on Facebook about being stuck in Boston until the end of the week.

Except, United did have a flight, today, December 28, that was wide open yesterday evening, from Boston to San Francisco, flight 9795, nonstop at 3:15 p.m. And it was on-time. But, she never heard of it.

Yet I was able to offer it to clients, as were other travel agents I know. This flight was an “extra section.”

Simply put, an “extra section” is an added plane a carrier may put on for any reason. Usually this is done when there have been a number of canceled flights, sometimes I have seen two smaller flights canceled and an “extra section” added with a larger plane.

United 9795 was a large plane, 767, added yesterday presumably to deal with the Boston backlog. I have no way of knowing how many passengers United might have contacted for the flight, or if was just the luck of the draw or the phone call in finding about it.

(My guess is, that if any travelers were proactively called on the flight were the most elite level frequent fliers.)

I don’t know how many people were booked on the flight by travel agents searching for alternatives. But it was available and bookable for any agent who had passengers ticketed from Boston to the West Coast.

Now, these “extra sections” aren’t something that always happen. Although this afternoon there was a wide open available flight showing in our computer for December 29 at 4 p.m. from JFK to San Francisco.

Fortunately, I don’t have any clients stranded, but if I did, a 777 with hundreds of seats would certainly be a great alternative with the rest of United’s flights being sold out through the weekend. There were even great seat assignments available.

Plus, while I was writing this post, United added a return flight back from San Francisco to JFK Wednesday night. Again, wide open, but it will likely sell out tonight. (Note, while editing this post at 11 p.m., I looked and the JFK-SF flight is now full, and there are two seats left on the return.)

Quite frankly, most travel agents, if they are honest, will admit that domestic tickets are neither our favorite bookings nor do they generate enough revenue to keep us in business.

Such tickets pay zero commission, they require charging fees and unlike more theoretically complicated trips, we’ve all heard more than once “why would anyone pay an agent to do a simple domestic trip?” In fact at a Christmas party, a woman asked me if my clients were all lazy rich people, because she felt otherwise paying an agent for a plane ticket was “nothing personal, but it’s just silly.”

While admittedly not all travel agents know what an “extra section” is, or how best to search for alternative flights, a good agent can if nothing else save you hours of searching online or on hold.

Because sometimes the only difference between a “simple trip” and one of the most complicated travel adventures of your life, is weather and whether or not your plane gets canceled.

In those cases, that $30-$50 you may have paid a competent travel agent could turn out to be the best travel bargain of the year.