Five things the travel industry needs to fix now to avoid a summer of chaos

Advice

After one of the worst weeks of travel chaos in living memory, when airports have nearly ground to a halt, hundreds of flights have been cancelled and thousands of holidays lost, ruined or delayed, the travel industry has just seven weeks to get its act together. Most schools break up on Friday July 22 and the following day will be one of the busiest of the year at airports around the country, kicking off six weeks of holiday travel.

We mustn’t forget that airports, airlines and operators have had a miserable two years. But now they are back in the boom times again, if they want to retain our sympathy, they need to get their act together fast. The customers they so badly need are desperate to get away – many have not had a foreign holiday since 2019. We deserve better than this chaos. Here are the five things that the aviation industry needs to sort – and fast.

Get the queues down

It’s pretty obvious that airlines and airports know exactly how many people are turning up each day – they even know their names and what time they will get there. And they have had this information for weeks, if not months. So there isn’t any excuse not to be in a position to cope with them when they arrive. This really should be the most straightforward problem to solve.

Solve strike issues

The very worst thing that could happen – apart from more systems melt downs which have historically plagued BA and which we saw recently at EasyJet – is a major strike during the summer. And that is exactly what may be brewing among BA staff at Heathrow at the moment. Unions are balloting workers between June 7 and June 27 and, if they vote to strike, it will probably happen during July – the peak summer season. That would be potentially disastrous for all concerned.

Manage cancellations properly

The most distressing experience for families this/last week, was the very late cancellation of flights. There were even some instances when passengers were told after they had boarded the plane that they were not flying. Not only do they then have to cope with the immediate disappointment, but also the stress of having to cancel or rearrange accommodation, transfers, car hire and so on. So two things need to happen. First this spate of last minute cancellations needs to stop. And, going forward we need better systems for rebooking passengers in those situations. Typically they are told as they disembark to rebook themselves on the next available flight – but airlines have a legal duty to arrange this themselves, and they need to do more to help.

Improve information

It’s never good to suffer a delay, but it helps a lot to know why it’s happening and to be kept properly up to date about the situation. Airport information displays give minimal information the timings they give are nearly always slow to be updated. You can tell that if you use a flight tracking app – like flightstats.com – to track the progress of the inbound flight, the one which will be used for your outbound flight. That will tell you if and when it has taken off and when it will land. By adding (at least) half an hour to the landing time you can gauge the likely delay. If individual passengers can do it on their own phones, the airports themselves need to make a better effort.

Look after people better

Will all these core problems actually be solved in time for the main summer season? I’m not optimistic. Seven weeks is a very short time to recruit and train the significant numbers of staff required to get airports and airlines back up to speed.  So there are bound to be problems at some points and when there are, the least that those airports and airlines can do is to make sure they look after the people who are affected properly. I was on a flight stuck on the tarmac for 90 minutes last week and the cabin crew ran out of sandwiches before they got to about row 8 in the plane. They need to get more reliable supplies of food and water onto delayed planes and into the departure lounges.

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