Case study: Airline crisis leaves travellers stranded

‘What went horribly wrong and what we learned from it’ was the name of one of the most highly anticipated sessions at the ABTA Conference 2018, with buyers sharing real examples of crisis situations and how they dealt with them.

One of these involved a situation at an airport where several high-level travellers were impacted by a specific airline’s worldwide system outage. The travel buyer said she had three EXCO and board members travelling from South Africa to various European countries with a stopover over at another European airport. The result was that the travellers were unable to check in for their connecting flights and were stuck at the airport.

“The queues were very long and the airline couldn’t advise when the system would be restored. Keep in mind these travellers had just been on a 12-hour flight and were now facing endless queues. Even if the system was restored, the travellers would not be able to check-in on time,” said the buyer, adding that missed flights would mean delayed or cancelled multi-city meetings.

Each of the travellers had a different status with the airline loyalty programme, ranging from being on the top tier, to not having a membership at all, and this had a huge impact on the buyer and TMCs ability to solve the problem swiftly.

The traveller with the highest status on the airline loyalty programme could get into the airport lounge and was offered a preferred check in once the airline systems were eventually restored. This meant he was able to get on the next flight out to his destination, and while he arrived a few hours later than planned, he was able to attend his scheduled meeting.

The second traveller was on the second level of the airline loyalty programme, which meant he was only allowed into the lounge after a very long wait. As the traveller would only be able get a connecting flight the next day and the airport hotels were overbooked, he decided to return to South Africa on a flight with another airline. “This cost a lot of money which was refunded by the airline,” said the buyer.

Finally, the third traveller was not a member of the airline’s loyalty programme which meant she had to stand in the queue for hours. “She started panicking about missing the connecting flight the next day and was too scared to leave the queue. I contacted the representative from the airline, but there wasn’t much she could do, but she was able to keep me up to date with information and I could make plans for this traveller.”

The buyer contacted her TMC and requested a flight change for the next day. The agent also booked the traveller into a hotel and once the airline system was restored, the agent made the schedule change and reticketed the client.

Lessons learnt through this process, was that a stressed traveller is a difficult and irrational traveller, so you need to keep in contact with them. “Even though there isn’t much you can do, the traveller will not feel neglected or deserted.” Also, you should ensure you have a good relationship with the airline and a local point of contact, while your TMC’s after-hours services must be reliable and the agency must have access to all systems. “I also discovered the value of loyalty programme membership – it doesn’t just benefit the traveller but the company as well.”

If the buyer had the opportunity to deal with the situation differently, she said she wouldn’t change much but would perhaps change the order she did things. “I wouldn’t waste time by having the traveller stay at the airport. I would immediately put them up in a hotel and get them comfortable to reduce stress levels. I’d try to do a schedule change right away in order to get the cheapest/best seats available, even if it’s on another airline and then apply for a refund.”

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