As storms Hercules and Ion descended on much of the country, Traveline agents geared up for the challenge of flight delays and cancellations and were ready to assist clients whose plans were disrupted with the deep freeze in air travel. The timing of the freeze couldn’t have been much worse. It came on the heels of wintry storms in the Midwest and the Northeast. It also affected many travelers still on their way home after the holidays, as well as business travelers hitting the road for the first time in the New Year.
At times over this past weekend air traffic across the nation seemed to be at a standstill, and trying to reach the airlines by phone encountered lengthy hold times.
The Perfect Storm
On Monday, Flight Aware reported more than over 8,000 delayed flights and 4,100 cancelled flights. The situation improved slightly on Tuesday, when there were 2,500 cancelled flights and 4,300 delayed flights. Flights originating in Cleveland, Chicago, La Guardia (New York City) and Indianapolis were most affected, while as destination cities Chicago, New York, Cleveland and Boston were most impacted, according to Flight Aware.
Traveline agents met the challenge. Our system informs us where our clients are, so we can go in and rebook them. “We had a university sports team flight cancelled” advised one agent. “23 people needing to get to MKE for a conference game, and our agent worked on New Year’s Day to get them to their destination…ultimately having to secure a bus for transportation vs waiting on the unknown of airline flight schedules that were changing by the minute.
“Being a holiday, United Airlines help desks were all closed and reservations could not help with a group booking. This is when our group agent’s assistance was invaluable. Usually a carrier will re-book a passenger on the next available flight when it is cancelled. In this case, however, thousands of flights were cancelled and no specialty desks were open at United Airlines, so Traveline worked to identify these passengers immediate need.
But even for general agents, rebooking could be a challenge. In some cases our agents were unable to deal with carriers electronically or via their websites and had no choice but to call them. Hold times on those phone calls ranged from one to four hours.
“This weekend rates right up there with Hurricane Sandy,” commented Scherber, senior vice president, operations manager for agent24, which provides after-hours service to Traveline’s clients. The travel disruptions caused by the frigid weather impacted Traveline’s emergency after hours call center as well. “It was all hands on deck at agent24, said executive Michelle Scherber,” “Our inbound call volume was probably five times what we normally get in a day.”
Even though delays in Chicago were the biggest factor, “It doesn’t matter if the client was located in San Diego or New York; if Chicago is experiencing weather, there will be an impact across the board,” Scherber said, our clients were serviced and 99% of all calls were received and protected with new flight options or hotels.
Despite the pressures, the airlines proved fairly adept at handling the crisis, according to our agents. “Right now it appears from the New York area that we’re pretty much back to normal and most of our clients are back to where they have to be or are rescheduled.” Chicago remains a problem with “ripples” that could go through Thursday or Friday.
As with many events that disrupt travel, this week’s deep-freeze demonstrated the value of Traveline’s services to our clients. “These are the days we look forward to because we really shine as travel consultants,” said Traveline’s operations director, Sharon Birtley. “We excel in situations like these and we remain ready for action to each of our customers”.