Travel chaos over the holidays has meant little rest for travel agents having to deal with stranded, frustrated and angry clients trying to re-book cancelled flights or track down lost baggage.
“Definitely. It hasn’t been the greatest holiday for my staff,” said Al Valente, owner of Windsor’s Valente Travel Inc.
His travel agents have been inundated with calls, including on Christmas and Boxing Day, from clients, particularly those who have been unable to connect with anyone at the airlines struggling to get their jets moving.
I think we’re through the worst
“It’s been literally and figuratively the perfect storm,” said Valente, who describes the situation as the worst he’s seen in his 29 years in the travel business.
Thousands of flights to and from major cities and the hot winter vacation destinations have been cancelled due to winter weather and other factors. A “very concerned” federal Transport Minister Omar Alghabra on Wednesday tweeted that Canadians, while patient when it comes to winter weather disruptions, “expect their airlines to keep them informed and to manage these disruptions smoothly.”
Valente said airlines are the “root of the problem.” There were a few pre-Christmas days of fierce winter weather that hit large parts of North America, but companies like Sunwing and Southwest Airlines have been sluggish in getting flights back on schedule, locating staff to fly the aircraft, connecting passengers with their luggage, and just communicating with paying customers about what’s going on.
“We’ve been fielding questions and concerns and complaints — but it’s really out of our hands,” said Valente. Unlike the airlines, his staff have been answering the phones.
Some of those calls have been abusive, he added. Travel agency staff have been assisting as much as possible, he said, even though a cancelled flight on which Valente Travel has booked clients means there’s no agent commission paid by the airline: “We deal with it twice and get paid nothing.”
The good news, said Valente, is that the current mess with the airlines and at airports should be sorted out as soon as in the coming few days.
“I think we’re through the worst. Be patient, everyone is trying their best,” he said.
Windsorites among hundreds stranded in Chatham in massive winter storm
Treacherous weather makes driving difficult across Windsor-Essex
Troubles during the peak winter travel season are not unusual, given the potential for snow and stormy weather, but Valente said “it just seems to be getting worse now.” COVID-19 is partly to blame for that, with airlines losing staff either due to illness or due to fed-up employees simply walking away from the industry.
Valente’s advice is to book trips with “reputable” tour companies and/or airlines and to “prepare for the worst” — if travelling with check-in luggage, for example, pack necessary medications and a few extra clothing items in your carry-on bag.