Now can we tell customers to travel?
Special to Canadian Travel Press
Heifetz, Crozier, Law
Canadian Travel Press asked Tim Law of Heifetz Crozier Law to take a flight with Air Canada recently and give us his impressions of what flying in the world of COVID-19 was like. Not only did he do that, he also offers some observations on how important it will be for travel agents to know their suppliers well so they can provide their clients with the kind of information they need to make an informed decision.
Along with the number of other members of the travel industry, the press and some politicians, I had the pleasure of flying with Air Canada to and from Montréal on July 16, 2020.
Not surprisingly, the Toronto airport was eerily empty as I passed quickly from the check-in counter, through security and into the Maple Leaf Lounge for breakfast and some observations from Air Canada staff, the airport authority and the politicians.
I was surprised to learn that 15,000 people were expected to pass through Lester B. Pearson on that date although I was not surprised to learn that this was only a tenth of the “normal” passenger count for that time of year.
We made our way quickly and easily to the gate and boarded the plane where we were handed a “clean kit” including a mask, sanitizer and a bottle of water. After a short, but enjoyably turbulent flight, courtesy of the weather and not the two captains flying the plane, we landed in what could only be described as the ghost town that was the Montréal airport on that day. Escorted to a large room we were then given a number of presentations from other Air Canada employees and also other local members of the industry, and then a brief respite to mix (as much as possible given the physical distancing requirements) with others who were participating and discuss all that we had seen and heard up until then.
We then made our way back to the plane, unfortunately only seeing one small group of other passengers checking in for a flight whilst making our way to our gate, boarded the plane and were returned to Toronto.
Concerned about safety
It was clear throughout the day that all participants in our travel experience were concerned about our safety as we used both airports and the plane.
Everyone with whom we came into contact was following appropriate protocols, including the wearing of masks, taking our temperature and providing all the sterilising solution one could possibly want or need.
The most uplifting part of the day was however the attitude of all of these people, including all Air Canada staff, the politicians, and everyone else that spoke to the crowd.
They could easily have seen the lack of regular bedlam at the airports – about which we all liked to complain when we lived in that old normal world – and portrayed an air of discouragement. Instead, they were all focused on what they had done and would continue to do in order to encourage people back into airports and onto planes.
When telling us all that they believed it was safe to fly on a plane it was clear they meant it and were not simply Whistling Dixie.
The concerted effort made by everyone to make flying as safe as possible was clear and their readiness to do whatever is necessary, not only to get people into seats, but to protect those flying came across as genuine.
What then can others in the industry who rely on airlines and other travel suppliers to transport, accommodate and entertain their customers, say to their customers about the state of travel services all over the world?
As with any recommendation being made to a customer, the travel agent must be secure in the knowledge when recommending a particular supplier of travel services that it is competent to provide the services.
In the age of COVID 19 “competence” does not only mean that the supplier is using properly maintained equipment in providing the service to the customer. It now also requires the equipment be sanitized and inspected and that all other safety protocols prescribed by the relevant government are being followed by the supplier.
That same concept applies whether the equipment in question is some form of transportation, accommodation or venue/attraction.
In carrying out the counselling of customers the travel agent must then be content that both aspects of a supplier’s competence are being met.
To do that an appropriate investigation into a travel supplier’s services and procedures must be carried out and information about them provided to the customer.
What the travel agent must avoid doing however is making the decision for the customer.
The agent’s role
The role of the travel agent is to satisfy herself that the travel supplier is both using equipment appropriate for the task and maintaining that equipment in accordance with the safety standards issued by the relevant government authority.
That information is then relied on when deciding whether or not to recommend a travel supplier to the customer.
It is however then for the customer, knowing her own tolerance for risk, to decide whether or not to travel.
In carrying out her role as advisor to the customer, the travel agent can assist the customer in finding information about the travel services, the applicable safety standards from the relevant government and possibly the apparent compliance with those standards by the supplier, however as with any other professional advisor, the decision regarding what the customer will or will not do once in possession of the relevant information, remains to be made by the customer.
In the present circumstances, it is also imperative that the travel agent obtain from the customer confirmation that the customer has made the decision after receiving relevant information from the travel agent.
That is all the more necessary if the advice was against traveling because of what appear to be far less than favourable circumstances for travel to a particular destination.
That confirmation from the customer could come in the form of a written, e.g. email, acknowledgement of what has been explained.
Ideally, the acknowledgement will be by way of execution of a waiver of any rights the customer may have in light of the very clear travel restrictions, unknown or unclear circumstances in other parts of the world and the fact that circumstances are literally changing on a daily basis.
Tim Law is a partner of Heifetz, Crozier, Law, a Toronto law firm that has for years represented all aspects of the Canadian travel industry. HCL also maintain a non-travel practice, covering litigation, real estate, Wills, corporate/commercial matters, etc.
To contact HCL, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.