March 2, 2024

Lauren Gumport is the Vice President of Communications & Brand at travel disruptor Faye.

If you’re like me and are currently planning your holiday 2022 adventure, you’re perhaps becoming increasingly frustrated by inflated prices, hidden fees and in your face add-ons by significant players in the travel industry. This is only compounded by the looming threats of flight delays, staff shortages and lost luggage. (Yeah, I bought an AirTag the other day out of sheer anticipatory anxiety.)

Things have gotten so dire that the government has stepped in a couple times in the last few months alone. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg asserted that airlines should pay for meals and hotels for stranded passengers. The U.S. Department of Transportation even launched a dashboard meant to tell us what we’re owed in case we’re stuck for a significant amount of time.

Biden also stepped up to seek stricter rules when it comes to airlines disclosing fees for your stuff, your seats and other add-ons.

Right On For Regulations

I believe this push for regulations that put the consumer first is positive for the ecosystem. In fact, purchasing airline tickets today has become synonymous with countless pop-ups and aggressively worded add-ons meant to stress travelers into “bettering” their in-flight experience—when in reality, they also tack on costs that can dramatically increase the overall price.

In many ways, it feels that as a traveler, these companies are blatantly trying to take advantage of the purchaser rather than creating a long-lasting, two-way relationship.

What Happened To Me

I was recently flying from Rome to Berlin via a budget airline. You’re likely saying: “She’s asking for it.” But it was the right date and time and my only option. The flight was meant to depart at 9:05 a.m., so I promptly arrived at the airport two hours before that. I checked my bag and made it through security only to see that the flight was delayed by three hours and 45 minutes. The staff hadn’t mentioned a thing.

Then it was pushed to 1:05 p.m., then 1:50 p.m., then 2:30 p.m. … and then they just stopped updating the flight board. The gate kept changing, and finally two staff members showed up but the plane had yet to arrive and they were not informed as to when it would. (Airlines: inform your staff of on-the-ground happenings; otherwise, passengers will form a mob around them and there will be tears.)

I decided to reach out to support via their app. I was number 188 in line. Let that sink in.

Once a representative entered the chat, he asked for all the details already associated with my app account. Fine, no problem; I repeated them to him. He then proceeded to tell me his database isn’t updated in real time and he saw that my delay was currently between two and four hours. It was 2:45 p.m. My flight was meant to take off at 9:05 a.m. It was clearly already a 5.5-hour delay.

He told me that I was owed a voucher for the delay and would be told about it in-flight.

No one mentioned the voucher on the flight. And post-flight, the airline sent an email apologizing for the severe delay. It noted that if I wanted a refund or to be booked on a new flight, that was an option. But alas, I had already taken the delayed flight. The website offered no option for a severe-delay partial refund.

A Travel Companion In An Unlikely Place

So where is our saving grace? Who is the protector for consumers on the road?

Well, it might just be travel insurance providers. This is shocking, I know.

Travel insurance has long been plagued with a down-right rotten reputation—especially for those who’ve gone through the agonizing process of filing a claim (specifically during Covid-19). Travel insurtechs hitting the scene in response to this problem should strive to provide modern, 24/7 customer support from anywhere in the world.

That means being reachable by phone, email, chat and WhatsApp around the clock to speak to airlines, hotels and car rental companies on customers’ behalf so their trip is memorable for the right reasons. And I’m not talking about in emergency scenarios only—I’m talking about addressing delays, snafus and small bumps in the road and helping when the you-know-what hits the fan and they need someone to figure it out on their behalf. If the delay qualifies for an immediate reimbursement due to the inconvenience alone (for example, a delay of six hours or more), immediately send travelers the funds rather than forcing them to pay out of pocket for an overnight stay in a new city. Enable travelers to file claims digitally, while in-trip, using the information you already have—rather than asking for the same details over and over again. You can even enable travelers to file claims in-app while they’re still adventuring.

This showcase of putting customers first and investing in helpful solutions can create long-lasting relationships so consumers come back time and again. Legacy players are sometimes more focused on one-time sales that may drive their bottom line in the near future but don’t do much in the long term when the small guys make up for what they’re lacking.

It’s time airlines, and all hospitality players, do more for customers facing unsavory circumstances: whether that’s providing rooms, meals or vouchers. Travelers need timely, helpful assistance when things go wrong and champions who help things go right.

Forbes Communications Council is an invitation-only community for executives in successful public relations, media strategy, creative and advertising agencies. Do I qualify?

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