“Why was this not addressed before it became a fiasco?”: Agents sound off ahead of transport committee hearings

Travel agents share their tips on how to help minimize disruption for clients due to airport delays

TORONTO — It seems like travel just can’t catch a break these days.

First, the entire global industry shut down virtually overnight in March 2020 due to the pandemic, and remained largely inactive for two long years. And then when travel restrictions finally lifted and borders reopened around the world, travellers, particularly those in Canada, were hit with long passport processing times, massive airport delays and widespread flight cancellations, an unfortunate byproduct of staff shortages and high travel demand.

And caught in the middle of it all are travel agents, who have been tasked with picking up the pieces of their clients’ broken travel plans.

Joe Scott, President of Year Round Travel Inc., in Toronto tells Travelweek that the current situation at Canada’s major airports has resulted in many horror stories for his clients, including one flying from Toronto to Grand Prairie, Alberta. As a forensic engineer, the client had to be in Grand Prairie on a specific day to work on site and attend a court case. His flights were cancelled the night before he was scheduled to depart, and he was rerouted two days later through London, Ontario and Calgary.

“I spent three and a half hours on the phone with the airline to resolve the issue and lo and behold, they had a much better alternative that got him to the destination just three hours later than originally scheduled and in time for his court case. Why this wasn’t offered to him in the first place, I don’t know,” says Scott.

Unfortunately, the client’s troubles did not end there. The airline lost an expensive piece of work equipment he had checked (valued at $15,000), forcing him to rent an inferior piece of equipment to perform his work duties. (Luckily, his equipment materialized a few days later.) On top of that, his wife, who was meeting him in Calgary for a road trip to the Rockies, had her direct flight from Toronto rerouted by the airline to Vancouver, overnight, which would have been at her expense, a situation that, luckily, was also resolved during Scott’s lengthy phone call with the airline.

“I think the airlines thought they’d flip a switch and everything would be just like February 2020 when the reality is, we’ve lost approximately 30% of our workforce,” says Scott. “So maybe wait to travel until airlines ramp up flights in a realistic manner. It will take a while to get back to normal.”

Other tips from Scott to minimize travel disruption at this time include bringing only carryon luggage, reconfirming flights before heading to the airport, checking in online, ensuring hardcopies of proof of vaccination and face masks are packed and, of course, booking with a travel agent.

“There have been lots of headaches caused by the current airport situation but I’ll take this headache over last year’s, which was, ‘Will my phone ring this month?’” he says.

Laurie Keith, President of Romantic Planet Vacations in Beamsville, Ontario, shares similar tips for travellers after noting that flight delays have now become the norm.

“The occurrence of delayed flights right now is the most I’ve seen in the 25 years of being a travel agency owner in Canada,” she says. “The best advice we can offer clients is to ‘pack your patience’ and ensure that you triple-check your flight times before departure. Better yet, sign up for the airline’s notifications.”

Keith also suggests arriving “super early” for your scheduled departure and work in ample time between connections.

“I had a client from Ottawa last week who was booked at a fishing retreat on Vancouver Island with a group of friends, followed by a river cruise on the Upper Danube in Austria and Germany with their family,” she says. “They wanted to spend just a day at home to repack and go onward to Europe, but I personally thought three days in between the two trips would be better, just in case.”

Keith’s clients took her advice, which paid off big time.

“They ended up being fogged in for two days on the island,” Keith recalls. “My client texted me in a panic but I was able to help her get on a different airline home, at an additional expense, just in time to repack and board her flight to Vienna, which was also delayed by a few hours due to staff shortages. They made the river cruise and are enjoying it as we speak.”