Agents frustrated with long hold times and delayed responses as suppliers scramble to staff up

Agents frustrated with long hold times and delayed responses as suppliers staff up

TORONTO — The long-anticipated pent-up demand has hit the travel industry as some suppliers are just starting to staff up their call centres, with frustrating results for travel agent partners and consumers.

While the boom in travel inquiries and forward bookings is very much needed, for some suppliers it’s been too much of a good thing.

Case in point: Flair Airlines was forced to shut down its phone lines over the weekend, after call centre volumes ramped up too quickly for the carrier to keep up.

Flair says it is aiming to triple its call centre staffing to keep up with demand.

Flair’s Chief Commercial Officer, Garth Lund, posted this tweet heading into this past weekend: “Demand for Flair flights has returned stronger than ever. We are thrilled that Canadians are choosing Flair and it is our privilege to make travel affordable for so many. 

Lund said: “We are currently experiencing extremely high call volumes. In order to address all customer inquiries and catch up on the backlog, we have temporarily closed our phone lines until Monday.”

“We are very sorry for this,” says Lund. “Our current customer experience is not what you deserve, and not what we strive to offer.”

Customers are asked to visit flyflair.com/contact-us and fill out a request form. “This is the quickest way to reach us.”

Flair is currently training new team members to triple the size of its customer care team, and working to expand its digital self-serve options. The company said phone lines would reopen today.

Lund says: “Thank you for your patience during this difficult time, we will rise and meet this moment to provide you with the customer care that you deserve.”

LONG WAIT TIMES FOR MANY SUPPLIERS, AND WHAT AGENTS ARE SAYING

Many suppliers began bringing back staff and hiring newcomers after the June 21 announcement that effective July 5 fully vaccinated Canadians and permanent residents returning to Canada would no longer have to quarantine. 

But the re-staffing process takes time and many agents are back to hours-long hold times on the phones as a result, waiting to connect with suppliers and their call centres.

“There is no excuse for 7 hour hold times or 10 day waits for email replies, none!” says Niche Travel Group owner, Faith Sproule, based in Nova Scotia. “Every supplier knew that demand would skyrocket as restrictions were lifted.”

The writing was on the wall about the end of the quarantine hotel stay and a 14-day quarantine as Canada’s vaccination levels rose, she says. “They had weeks if not months to reach out to staff on furlough to rehire them and train new employees while accessing the federal government’s 75% wage subsidy.”

She adds that in some cases suppliers advertised time sensitive specials and deals and group incentives, “knowing their hold times were atrocious and there were 10-day turnarounds on group quotes.”

Says Sproule: “The continued request to ‘be patient’ is disrespectful and bad business. The truth is that Canadians travel agents have no other options and the suppliers know it. If we offered the same excuses to our clients we wouldn’t have a business … If restaurants reopened after quarantine with one server and one cook and told clients to please be patient, they would be out of business. The attitude of our suppliers may be the final nail in the coffin for travel agents that feel overworked, underpaid and taken advantage of.”

With more eased travel restrictions coming potentially today, the uptick in demand will only continue. The decimated travel industry desperately needs the business, especially for immediate travel, to get revenue flowing into travel agencies. However the ban against non-essential travel is still in place.

Meanwhile, agents wait on the phone, eager to get answers and bookings for their clients. And suppliers are scrambling to re-staff, under unprecedented circumstances.

“If I could only video ‘A day in the life of a travel agent on hold with suppliers’, I might just win an award!!” says Kim Hartlen with Kim Hartlen Travel-TPI. “The things I get done while on hold for 1-4+ hours amaze me. TikTok would love it!!”

Hartlen adds: “Revenge travel is real and wonderful for us all but the hold times with a lot of suppliers are difficult.”

But, she adds, “we all went into this together and we will get out of it together.”