As The Boarding Doors To Travel Open Prepare For A Turbulent Ride!
Can you feel that? Can you feel the winds of change finally starting to blow a little bit in our direction? Vaccines are rolling out, the summer is approaching and regular travel doesn’t feel that far out of reach. You can already see it with the TSA numbers hitting levels we haven’t seen in a year, Universal Orlando hitting capacity numbers multiple days in a row last week and planes that used to ride half empty are packed to the gills. You can see it in other places too, massive hold times when calling airlines & travel centers, empty car rental lots and prices trending up etc. It has all made it clear that the ride back to travel normal will be a turbulent one.
Some Recent Experiences
Over the past week I have heard several horror stories revolving around travel. A lot of it revolves around under staffing and just overall uniformed reps working the front lines these days. The airlines took a little while to adjust to a shrinking appetite for their services, and took several months to park and store aircraft, lay off workers and rework airline schedules. It appears that it will take just as long to ramp things back up as well.
Issues Booking With Delta
Last week I needed to contact Delta to complete a minor booking. I had paid cash for my flight (going for status) and wanted to book my son’s flights with miles. For some reason airlines have not figured out how to allow you to add a confirmation number when making a minor booking to show you will be traveling for them. Because of that you need to call, or chat, with them to make the booking. An annoyance, but in normal times not a big deal. I had done the same thing with Virgin Atlantic the night before via chat and it was fairly harmless, but it was the middle of the night which meant there wasn’t a lot of people ahead of me in line.
With Delta, I had some issues with a Delta gift card not activating properly so decided to call in and knock out two birds with one stone. That is when I was greeted with a 4+ hour hold time….uh no thanks. Luckily I knew to fire up Delta chat through the app (even though I still miss Twitter DM) and after about an hour I had a rep text me back. Had I not had access to the chat function, or not known about it, I would have needed to wait a while to get my issues addressed. I will say Delta has the call back function that helps out with wait times and usually works. But if I had an urgent need I could have been in trouble since it was going to take time either way I went.
Be sure to use chat functions or social media whenever possible for the near future because hold times will probably continue to be very long with airlines. I prefer social media since it doesn’t need to be in real time but chat works well too.
Issues With Travel Portals
At the beginning of the pandemic I suggested that people should avoid bank travel portals at all costs going forward. They were the most difficult call centers to deal with for cancellations etc. I kept hearing horror story after horror story about long waits and incompetent reps. It appears that hasn’t changed much.
Shawn had an experience last week, that we briefly talked about on the podcast, that there was a 2 hour hold time to make a simple adjustment to his booking. He had booked the airfare sale to Panama he discovered but it kept ticketing him in economy for part of the flight. When he was finally able to get through they made the change fairly easily for him.
We had 2 Chase horror stories over the past week or two from our team at Miles to Memories. We are only a group of around 10 people so that isn’t encouraging to see. Ryan F., our head Facebook moderator, had to spend over 10 hours going back and forth with reps to make a simple Jet Blue cancellation. This went on over multiple days because they kept messing it up and blaming Jet Blue.
Ian Snyder shared his frustrations making a booking with a credit they mistakenly said he had on his account. Three and a half hours later he was able to finally get his ticket booked.
Car Rentals Are Going To Be…Interesting
Another area of supreme pain will be car rentals going forward. So many smaller car rental shops shut their doors during the pandemic and the larger shops sold cars to stay afloat. That has created a shortage that has led to several hundred dollars a day rentals. What it used to cost to rent a car for a week may get you two days during busy times at popular destinations. Think Florida over spring break. If you need a car rental, book it early and use AutoSlash etc. in case the price drops.
I still fear that I will get to counter and they will tell me, tough luck…we just ran out of vehicles.
A Double Down Of Domestic Travel
Another thing to consider that will play into this mess is the fact that most travel will be focused domestically. Normally many Americans head outside our borders during the summer. But with so many destinations having their borders under lock down that won’t be the case this summer.
So what happens when you have pent up travel demand and limited access to overseas travel? An influx of domestic travelers. Add in the fact that options are more limited than they were 2 years ago, plus there is more of a focus on domestic travel, and you have a recipe for disaster.
All this is to say that I think the summer travel season will be an extra bumpy ride. It took the airlines a long time to wind the operations down at the start of the pandemic and I imagine it will take a similar time frame to ramp it back up. I doubt they will reach pre covid levels of operations even if the demand is there too. They will be looking to trim as much fat and cut costs wherever they can.
Expect packed planes, long lines and hold times and everything in between. Add in the stress of pandemic rules and regulations, plus inexperienced travelers looking to just get out of their home, and you can see where I am going. Those videos of fights and outbursts on planes and in the airports are only going to escalate.
I expect by the fall for things to settle in some and for the airlines and travel related companies to get the staffing levels to their proper size. Until then, buckle up and expect some turbulence!