There’s been plenty of news about missed cruise departures, vacation days, lost luggage and hours spent in airports due to canceled and delayed flights plaguing the robust return to travel this summer.
But behind the scenes, thousands of travel advisors are working overtime to book those flights, change hotel and resort reservations, and get customers to their next cruise port.
For Jeannie Cartier Sauleau, owner of Sixth Star Travel in Fort Lauderdale, that means regularly answering middle-of-the-night text messages and phone calls from exhausted customers with canceled or delayed flights.
“I really don’t remember it being like that,” said Sauleau, who had to calm panicked customers waiting in “horrible” lines at the airport. “I’m at the point where if customers want to go somewhere soon, I make sure people know that if they don’t have a lot of patience, they better stay home.”
Sauleau said his customers’ issues range from postponing flights to navigating cancellation and fee change rules that have changed as the pandemic subsided.
Flight issues are pushing advisers like Sauleau, who have traditionally hunted for the best prices, to book flights through cruise lines, whose airline reservation programs often include policies that ensure customers get to their ships, even if this means a port of call downriver, and have their own staff to handle last minute cancellations and rebooking changes.
Both Holland America Line and Seabourn have bolstered teams handling customer flight cancellations and changes. Celebrity Cruises saw an increase in call volume related to flight disruptions, while Royal Caribbean International said it benefited from the many cruises offered from ports in US markets.
Booking through a cruise line does not necessarily guarantee a happy ending. Rhonda Day, an advisor with Dream Vacations in Louisville, Kentucky, said guests who booked an Alaskan cruise missed most of the land portion due to various flight issues.
“It’s just very intense, because you deal with all the Covid issues to begin with and all the layers of things that have been added, and then you deal with all of that,” she said.
And even when customers book a flight through cruise lines, said Marisel Aleman, co-owner of Cruise Elite, “we’re the monkey in the middle because [clients] are calling us. All they know is that we are the saving grace at the end of the line.”
“Madness” is how Aleman describes the flight disruptions this summer. Cruise Elite’s other co-owner, Marc Hayes, calls him “crazy.” They are among the advisers who now encourage customers to arrive early. In their case, two days ahead of a cruise instead of one. “The days of being cut short are over,” said Hayes.
Michael Hanlon of Ocean Dreams Travel, a Dream Vacations franchise in Wilmington, North Carolina, said he recently booked a family of three a day early to spend time in Rome before a seven-day cruise, but their flight was cancelled. They arrived the morning of their cruise departure.
“They heeded my warning and booked a day in advance, but these days it looks like that might not even be enough,” Hanlon said, adding that delays are the worst for people. cruisers.
“It’s one thing if you’re just staying in a hotel, but if you’re going on a river or sea cruise, that’s the last thing you want to see, arriving in port and the boat driving away.”
Missed tour days and hotel check-ins
A number of travelers booked on tours also inevitably miss days on departure due to last-minute flight cancellations. Luxury tour operator Abercrombie & Kent said it was able to respond quickly.
“Our customers have experienced flight delays and cancellations, but in most cases we were able to help them quickly so they didn’t miss the start of their trip,” said Stefanie Schmudde, VP of Development. and product operations at A&K.
Hotels are also feeling the impact. Barbara Jean Josey, director of business development and hospitality services at the Elwood Hotel & Suites in Lexington, Kentucky, said the property receives calls and messages “almost daily” about stranded guests. to get there, middle of the night arrivals or travel. cancellations.
“I had a gentleman come over at 9 a.m. hoping we could get him a room after flying all night from Vegas when he was supposed to be here the night before,” she said , adding that the hotel “remained flexible and understanding”. .”
“If they need a date change, we change the date without penalty,” Josey said. “If they forget to call to change the next day, we will reinstate the reservation and do our best to find them a clean room or have one cleaned so they can rest, no matter what time of the day. We’ve had a few of the guests who haven’t even set foot in our hotel leave a review online saying how accommodating we are when others aren’t.”
Some airlines have acknowledged the problems. Delta CEO Ed Bastian issued his “deepest apologies” to customers affected by the carrier’s cancellations, delays and other operational failures this spring and summer. “The issues we’re seeing are temporary,” he said on a conference call with investors. “We are already seeing significant improvement.”
Not everyone was affected
Of course, the problem is not universal. Not all advisors have been equally affected by the flight disruptions.
“I’ve had people everywhere and no flights have been canceled,” said Valerie Dorsey, travel consultant at Cruise Planners. “Lots of weather changes, but not big ones.”
Toni Lanotte-Day, owner of Toni Tours, said all of its affected customers were accommodated on flights on their original travel dates. “But they arrive earlier or later than expected, which means I now have to inform the tour operator or transfer company collecting them at the other end,” she said.
And some advisers say air travel issues appear to be having little to no effect on their clients’ willingness to book international travel this summer – as long as they eventually arrive at their destination.
“It’s worth all the hassle,” said Melinda Fortunato, owner of Best Travel, Fairfax, Virginia, despite what she says it’s “100%” of customers with flight delays or cancellations during the month last and average vendor wait times of two to four hours to book.
Chad Burt, co-owner of OutsideAgents.com, said he coaches agents to prepare clients “for the worst in hopes that they’ll end up being pleasantly surprised.” And his advisers found at least one silver lining.
“A lot of agents use the air as a sales tool,” he said. “‘The price is going to go up dramatically very soon…you’ve seen the news…we’re going to get you dropped off today.'”
Jamie Biesiada and Christina Jelski contributed to this report.