The Woes of Pandemic Travel and Tips on maintaining your sanity
Opinion - Travel Pulse Canada - JOHN KIRK
The Blame Game - Aviation vs. Travellers
“Sorry the microwave you ordered is back-ordered, should be here in about 4-6 months.”
“Your new car is delayed for delivery until sometime towards early 2024.”
“We are short-staffed, and just slammed in the kitchen; your dinner order will be another 45 minutes to an hour.”
All of these explanations are completely acceptable to the average Canadian these days. Our general response. “That sucks…. Supply chain issues, right?” or “We get it, it’s so hard to staff up. “
However, if you are a traveller or tourist in today’s environment, this level of empathy doesn't seem to exist. You’re on board your arrival flight and the cabin crew makes the dreaded announcement “Folks we are being held back here for roughly thirty minutes, due to overcrowding in the arrival’s hall.” Passengers start to lose their proverbial minds, taking to social media, or losing it on the inflight crew. They throw temper tantrums onboard like a 10-year-old who wants a brand new bike.
Why is it every industry gets a pass but not the aviation/hospitality industry?
Airline shaming is becoming a daily occurrence and I’ll tell you, it’ s not a good thing, for anyone. The relationship between the customer, inflight crew, check-in, gate and ramp staff could very well end up being irrevocably damaged if we are not careful.
This is not a Pearson Airport or Toronto issue. It is not a Canadian issue. This is a global issue.
For better or worse, flight delays, long lines for security, customs and being held at the gate upon arrival is the “new normal” for travellers. Get used to it. If you don’t like it, stay home, and avoid travel. As an industry the travel business had better start advising clients to be well prepared and expect the worst as it relates to their journey. In the end, if they don’t prepare travellers for the inevitable pitfalls of travelling in the current environment, somehow the finger will point back at them, the travel advisor. The handling of customer service issues, baggage, refunds, etc. will fall on their laps.
Does anyone actually believe that if the CEO or head of sales of marketing from any one of the worlds largest airlines could fix this problem that they wouldn't? That they all will just sit back and accept the brand shaming they are living through right now? No, definitely not they would do everything in their power to avoid it. And that is what they're trying to do.
Here’s the thing: the workers who make travel possible around the globe are only going to take so much shaming and abuse, and they are starting to push back.
British Airways has voted to strike amid staffing woes. Alaskan Airlines has authorized a future strike if talks and mediation fail. Schiphol Airport has announced mandatory flight reductions to carriers to reduce congestion and ease workplace challenges.
Air Canada announced last week that passengers can change flights which were originally scheduled to depart out of Pearson to Billy Bishop without fees or penalties. (Which as a reminder does not have US customs, all US bound departures clear in destination). Brit Rail has announced strike dates.
So, where does the finger get pointed? COVID and the pandemic.
Thousands upon thousands of baggage handlers, border security personnel, flight attendants, ramp staff, airport food and beverage workers, were all laid off during the pandemic. Many of them have moved on to other jobs and won't return. These are jobs by the way where customers don’t shame them and treat them like dirt every day. (That was a thing prior to the pandemic as well, in case you have forgotten). Bringing back employees or hiring new employees takes a considerable amount of time, training and re-certification. My understanding is that a new hire for Canada Customs requires six months of training.
Canadians spent months demanding the reopening of travel. Our wish has been granted. Now deal with the growing pains as the industry ramps up.
When will this all end? Likely not until the late fall in my view.
As reminder to all of you reading this; if you push airline crew too hard you could very well end up being banned from flying on their airline. Don’t even ask what could happen if you push your luck with US or Canadian Customs. So, be patient, cut those in need some slack, and empathize. It’s a long, long, drive to Cancun or Los Angeles and an even longer journey by sea to France or Jamaica.
Here are a few tips to make life easier when travelling over the next several months.
1 - Do your best to pack light and only do carry-on.
2 - Prebook your UBER or cab in advance. Driver shortages are causing delays for on-demand calls. (Yet another industry which has gotten a pass BTW).
3 - Pull all out all your electronics from your carry on. If you don’t your bag will end up being checked, further delaying you and others in line.
4 - Place all your liquids under 100 ml in the Ziploc bag and place in the bin when going throughs security. Don’t try and sneak through sunscreen or toothpaste over 100 ml. Buy it when you get to your destination.
5 - Get a credit card which provides priority security access, Visa infinite Privilege and Amex Reserve are two which come to mind.
6 - Arrive earlier than you think you should.
7 - Get a NEXUS card.
8 - Book a fare class which will provide you with zone 1 or 2, or even 3 when boarding which will give you better access to overhead bins. Your Travel advisor can assist with this.
9 - If you can afford it, and you book early enough, book a seat in business class and all your worries will be left behind.
10 - Smile and say 'Thank you.'
11 - It will all be over once you get to where you are going, the beach or your own bed will make it all worthwhile.
We also need to start toning down the rhetoric -- travel influencers, bloggers, and self appointed “experts" need to take a deep breath and think before tossing a member of the industry they love so much under the bus. Complaining about being placed on a customs hold, delayed baggage or even that you can’t get your favourite pastry before 6:00 AM at a 4* property is not doing anyone any good and simply fuels the flames of the blame game.
Breathe, bring a carry-on bag full of empathy and hand it out whenever you can.
Oh and if you do plan on travelling this coming winter. I suggest you book now; availability will become an issue and pricing will go up with limited inventory, and you could avoid a fuel surcharge which inevitably will happen.
Use a professional Travel Advisor. Pay the service fee if there is one. It will serve you well. They know their stuff.
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