After two years of repeated delays and cancellations, Sylvia Beck has all but given up on flying to the Maritimes to visit her son.
First, there was a trip last year where her family lost all their luggage when flying from Toronto to Moncton.
Then, on another recent trip, her daughter flew from Hamilton to avoid Toronto Pearson Airport’s congestion. But her budget carrier canceled the flight just 45 minutes before takeoff, citing bad weather despite other airlines landing in Moncton around the same time.
this year, Ms. Beck says she’ll probably do a two-day road trip instead. Gas and hotel expenses will make it more expensive, but Ms. Beck says it’s worth it for peace of mind and to be able to travel through parts of the country she hasn’t seen before.
“For me it feels like if you book a flight now, you’re not sure you’re going to get on that flight,” said Ms. Beck.
Travel agents say people are getting wary about their travel plans ahead of another summer that could be marred by staff shortages. Already in late June, more than 600 flights were delayed and nearly 90 were canceled at Vancouver and Toronto’s main airports in one weekend because of a shortage of air-traffic controllers.
Some, like Ms. Beck, say they’re avoiding air travel altogether, while others are being careful about the types of flights they book and the insurance coverage they purchase.
Lesley Keyter, founder and chief executive of the Calgary-based agency the Travel Lady, says a couple of her clients have done a road trip from Calgary to Vancouver before boarding a cruise ship to Alaska.
She says it’s an ideal option for people in Western Canada and the Prairies because cruise operators are offering lots of free perks to win back the trust of customers who were shaken by the spread of COVID-19 on ships during the beginning of the pandemic.
Some of the promotions include free WiFi, alcohol and credits toward on-shore excursions.
“People who have cruised a lot were ready to go back to cruising very quickly, but people who have never been on a cruise have been hearing all that negative publicity, I think it deterred them from trying it out,” said Ms. keyter.
“They’re working very hard to win back people’s confidence.”
Toronto-based travel agent Leila Lavaee said she’s also seeing growth in “expedition cruises,” which are smaller boats that go to more remote destinations like the Arctic, parts of Alaska that are difficult to access and the Galapagos Islands.
She says these types of cruises typically only carry 100-500 passengers (compared to large cruises that take many thousands), and may appeal to consumers who aren’t keen on the experience of larger cruises.
However, Ms. Keyter and Ms. Lavaee says avoiding flights or flying during off-peak times is simply not an option for some Canadians who have limited vacation time, or who have kids who can only travel during school breaks.
For those who have to fly, Ms. Lavaee says insurance is one of the only ways consumers can protect themselves in a cumulative air industry. One of the services her agency offers is to audit a customer’s existing travel insurance coverage to see whether it’ll adequately protect them in the case of a disruption.
She says people who rely on their credit card’s travel insurance or budget packages should make sure they’re completely covered.
“There are a lot of times where people come across a cheaper insurance quote and when we actually dig in and see why it’s cheaper, you come across things that are excluded or not covered,” said Ms. Lavaee.
“The devil is in the details, and it’s so true when it comes to insurance.”
Ms. Keyter also says travelers who have connecting flights to far-flung destinations can research whether certain transfer hubs are known for massive delays. When booking flights for customers, she’s had better experiences with German airports like Frankfurt and Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport. On the other hand, she avoids sending customers through Pearson or London Heathrow whenever possible.
Despite worries about disruptions this summer, demand has remained strong at her agency – strong enough that she has started turning customers away if they’re simply looking for a flight ticket or an all-inclusive package.
Now, she only has time to work with customers who require more hands-on help with planning a full vacation with tours, cruises and other experiences.
“If someone just needs to get on a flight to the UK we refer them directly to the airline website,” said Ms. keyter.
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