by Steve Gillick, Canadian Institute of Travel Counsellors
When major travel disruptions occur, we rarely hear of the behind-the-scenes customer service heroics of Certified Travel Counsellors. The world focuses on cancelled flights and long waiting times in airports. The press hones in on sound bites from travellers who endured sleeping on cold airport floors, being put on hold for hours on the telephone, and unexpected travel detours.
When the ash cloud spread throughout Western Europe and then the Gulf Stream brought it to the northeast coast of North America, some 95,000 flights were cancelled, causing chaos, backlogs and a lot of bewildered passengers asking “what are we supposed to do now?”
In Canada, certified travel professionals diligently worked to protect their clients as they have through many disruptions in the past, including tour operator failures and airline bankruptcies.
Passengers who made their own travel arrangements hoping to save a buck were left on their own to sort out their problems. It is a hard lesson to learn that when you use impersonal travel booking tools like the internet you are in most cases left to fend for yourself when anything out of the ordinary happens. The internet is a great research tool, but when it comes to spending money, saving cost, saving time, providing comfort and reassurance, and having someone go to bat for you when things go awry, the internet will never be able to compete with real, live certified travel professionals.
So what exactly did these certified professionals do?
Carol Campbell CTC of Uniglobe Travel in Gravenhurst, Ontario says the ash cloud crisis was an effective reminder of the value of booking with an agent. “I had five clients stuck in Norway, England and France. Using my skills and our airline reservation system I was able to get every one of my clients home on the day that flights resumed. Otherwise they would have all been victimized by the huge backlog that resulted from all the cancelled flights. My colleagues and I worked all weekend and all hours of the day and night to keep their flights updated, as well as rebooking hotels, car rentals and rail tickets. Getting clients home in any emergency situation is an art. The airlines have demonstrated that they cannot handle these ‘crisis’ situations. A travel professional can.”
Czarina Alikhan CTC works for another Uniglobe office in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. She arranged special telephone connections from Europe to allow her clients to contact the agency or the emergency call centre. Czarina also contacted the client’s travel insurance provider to update them on the situation, in order to expedite the settlement of any potential claims. While the clients were in airline limbo — not knowing if their flight was cancelled or not — Czarina arranged accommodation, and when the skies were declared safe for air traffic, she rebooked her clients’ flights. “Most of all, I was able to give my clients the reassurance that someone back home was working hard to get them back quickly and safely.”
Kathleen Warren CTM (Certified Travel Manager) of Allison’s Travel in Windsor, Ontario, had seven clients booked to visit Italy, including hotel and car rental. She and the staff checked flights all day until they finally were able to rebook all the passengers. When the rebooked flights were cancelled, she arranged immediate refunds from the airline, to lessen the stress of the clients. A similar situation with another client resulted in the agency rebooking flights to Moscow, ensuring that the class of travel was the same as the original booking, and securing an agreement from the airline that no extra charges would be levied. As in the other instances, the clients were informed that the changes had been made by their travel professional. The clients did not have to sit on hold for hours on end to resolve their situation.
There are hundreds of stories like these that don’t make the press. Solutions to problems are less exciting to read than the anecdotes of inconvenience and distress. The behind-the-scenes tales of certified travel professionals looking out for their clients’ interests before, during and after each travel experience goes a long way in showing that travellers need to seriously re-evaluate their booking practices and discover that in the majority of cases, consumers save money using the services of a Certified Travel Counsellor.