TORONTO — As the Canadian government’s transport committee gears up for its first hearing into air travel’s turbulent restart, travel advisors have their own thoughts on what went awry and how to fix it.
The restart has been a boon for the industry after two long pandemic years, and in these waning weeks of summer, the air passenger experience at major gateways like Toronto Pearson is much improved.
But the early months of travel’s comeback were rocky, and challenges persist. Aviation industry expert John Gradek offered his take in yesterday’s Travelweek Daily.
On Aug. 8 the House of Commons transport committee announced it was launching an investigation into Canada’s airport delays and flight cancellations.
Those hearings start today, and Transport Minister Omar Alghabra will be the first to testify.
The hearings get underway with just a few weeks to go before broader rules for Canada’s Air Passenger Protection Regulations (APPR) are set to take effect.
An update from the federal government issued yesterday says: “In Canada, airlines must follow the requirements of the Air Passenger Protection Regulations, which outline compensation requirements for passengers for flights delayed or cancelled due to incidents within an airline’s control, including crew shortages. New regulations taking effect on September 8, 2022, will also ensure passengers are compensated for flight incidents occurring outside of an airline’s control, like major weather events or a pandemic. The Government of Canada strongly encourages Canadians to know their rights when they travel by air under the Air Passenger Protection Regulations.”
Travelweek asked travel advisors what they would say at the transport committee hearings, if they were called to speak. Here’s what they shared with us…
The Travel Lady Agency
“I will be following this topic with great interest. It has indeed been a frustrating time – not only for the many travellers who faced last minute cancellations, hours on the tarmac and months of lost baggage. It has also been an extremely frustrating time for the travel agency community. Long hold times, calls after-hours from stranded passengers, extra hours of work for no remuneration. Naturally we were delighted when travel started to make a comeback but so many sectors of the travel industry were not ready for this.
“With the increasing rate of vaccination surely it should have been anticipated that there would be a rapid rise in the number of passengers. Just the sheer number of added planes and routes should have been an indicator of this. Why was this not addressed before it became a fiasco? I understand that it is hard to get people to do these jobs and travel is not the only industry hit with a staffing shortage but keeping our airports flowing is an important aspect of economic recovery and this should have been given priority treatment. The major airports in Canada are owned by the government. There should have been financial assistance from the government to pay attractive wages for airport employees and baggage handlers as well as a plan to speed up training for security personnel.
“As for the airlines, I recognize that they have had the same staffing issues but surely in this day and age there should be some way to deal with the incoming calls. If their Canadian offices could not handle the volume then they could have considered outsourcing their call centre so that they could add more operators. Problems we encountered could have been simple to do online such as the change of a booked seat. Some airlines would not allow this to be done online after the initial seat selection and required a call in to reservations. It is getting better but up until a month or two ago it was not uncommon to be on hold for up to 8 hours.
“I look forward to the hearings and the measures that Transport Canada will be taking to ease the problems we have experienced so far.”
The Travel Store
“Laying blame and pointing fingers at this point is not going to be productive. We need to move to useful, concrete and timely actions. The problem is complex, and it’s easy to feel powerless or be scared off by the enormity of the challenge to find solutions. Many of these require a long-term view and multi-stakeholder involvement, but I also think that a sense of urgency is needed in the short term.
“Without trying to oversimplify the problems, can we identify trouble spots and look for immediate common-sense solutions? What can we do better today to resolve the problem? Simple steps matter, and make a difference. Both travellers and travel industry workers are discouraged, and we need to see immediate improvements, even small ones, to give us reassurance that things will continue to get better.”
Executive Travel Services
“I have to be honest. I have travelled a few times during this situation and I have had a very good experience, very smooth through customs, very minimal delays. [However] I have had a few clients who have had a rough go of it.
“I believe the issue is and WILL BE staffing. The challenge now is to find people, train them and get them into the roles that can alleviate the pressure. This will take time. The industry has to take a long look at compensation, and security, if they want to attract and retain employees.
“The government also has to get rid of ArriveCAN, it’s become a burden and really does not help the situation. Airlines have also got to stop with overselling and over-promising – book what you can handle – very simple. I anticipate this will slowly improve.
“The more pressing issue is not COVID or staffing – that will be a factor for a while. The issue now is inflation. Travel is discretionary and with the cost of living going up for all ‘essentials’ I think we’re in for a bumpy ride in regards to bookings.”
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