With high travel demand comes complications; from missing hotel reservations to canceled flights, here is one way you can sidestep travel headaches.
As our world opens up and COVID retreats into the background, travel is a pleasure we can finally go back to indulging. For those who love to roam, we’ve fantasized about the freedom to reach new and favorite destinations freely in our post-pandemic life. But, as demand grows, this year’s travel plans are proving a little more difficult than anticipated.
Tourism lags behind other industries in recovery. In 2019, 16.7 million jobs in the United States were supported by travel, but in 2021, only 12 million remained. A combination of factors accounts for the rocky start. Jobs are available, but people aren’t applying at a rate to fill all the open positions. Supply chains are still affected by the pandemic, and inclement weather events are increasingly common. In some areas, COVID rates are still increasing, causing uncertainty.
As a travel writer, there’s almost a disconnect between these statistics and personal experience. I won’t claim expert status, but certainly, I’m a constant traveler experienced enough to avoid pitfalls in the current travel climate. During a recent vacation, I realized that I wasn’t immune from travel hiccups.
Recommended Fodor’s Video
My family traveled to the Florida Keys for a glimpse of the gorgeous blue water and a few key lime margaritas. We reserved rooms at a favorite family resort and scheduled a snorkeling cruise through our hotel. My husband and three children were excited, packing their masks and snorkels. As a wheelchair user, he’s snorkeled numerous times with our kids, happy to do a physical activity together.
When we arrived at the dock, the catamaran captain became visibly upset. He asked our family to leave the cruise, saying he wasn’t equipped to serve someone with mobility needs. He failed to ask what we required, and I didn’t think to inform the tour ahead of our visit because snorkeling wasn’t an activity where we needed help. The company also didn’t have any policy for mobility requirements on its website.
After getting past the embarrassment of being kicked off the boat and my entire family’s anger on behalf of my husband, I wondered how I could have avoided this traumatic incident? The answer? It might not seem like I should have to, but I might have saved myself this problem if I had called ahead.
As tourism resumes, calling ahead to confirm details is the strategy you need to avoid travel problems.
Decide What’s Most Important
What’s absolutely essential for your trip? Is it the restaurant, the gym, or late-night room service? Policies for access and availability have changed almost everywhere you’ll stay. For example, restaurants are closed on different days during the week, both at the hotel and in the surrounding area, which can come as a nasty surprise if you arrive to find nothing to eat but chips at the hotel kiosk. While missing some amenities might be acceptable, travelers should consider what is absolutely necessary for their trip. With that knowledge, calling the hotel directly is always the best choice.
Avoid Online Information for Hotels
Recently, Marisol Brekka traveled with her husband and two young children for a friend’s 50th birthday party. The reservations were made through a national website for the hotel chain. The couple booked adjoining rooms to have an extra bed for the kids to sleep in. When they arrived at the hotel, the rooms they were given were in two different areas.
Frequently websites aren’t updated with current information.
“We asked to be switched to the connecting rooms,” explains Brekka. “That’s when we were told there were no connecting rooms in the hotel.”
They spent their nights split up, each parent sharing a bed with a child. The birthday party was for adults, so the couple hired a babysitter. She put the kids to sleep in one room, and when the Brekka’s came back for the night, they had to move a sleeping child to another room. Their family vacation turned into more of an inconvenience than they’d planned.
Frequently websites aren’t updated with current information. National websites are often incorrect, lacking the fine details about a particular hotel. They may not list roll-out beds, adjoining rooms, and even the status of the hotel restaurant with the right detail.
More timely information might be found on social media, but that depends on the account. Posts are frequently prescheduled and don’t give a current picture of the hotel. Reviews on sites like Trip Advisor are a good source if they are current.
The best idea is to call ahead. However, be careful what number you call. Toll-free numbers might route you to an answering service that is basing their information on a website. Make an effort to find the local number for the physical hotel and talk to a front desk employee. Verify that person is in-house at the property when searching for answers.
Stayed at This Hotel Before? Things May Have Changed
Plan on staying in a familiar hotel? Don’t assume it’s the same. There are new policies and procedures everywhere and possibly a brand-new staff operating your favorite stop. Since 2020, around 4.8 million hospitality and leisure jobs have been lost due to the pandemic. In this competitive job market, employees are in short supply. As travel levels resume, hotels are frequently short-staffed, and new hires won’t always be aware of what the hotel offered in the past.
Make an effort to find the local number for the physical hotel and talk to a front desk employee.
Stephen Hopkins recently traveled for his yearly doctor’s appointment. He made his arrangements well ahead of time at his usual hotel, which is within walking distance of his hospital.
“I had a prepaid reservation that I made 45 days in advance,” recalls Hopkins. “Every time I go to Houston, I stay at the same hotel. One thing was different after I made the reservation. The hotel changed its brand.”
With the brand change, the management was new and seemed to be scrambling to organize itself. When Hopkins arrived, he didn’t have a room. The hotel offered an alternate location, forcing him to take a ride share to his appointment. The manager told him they would honor his second night reserved, but when he came back to try, he found himself working with a new manager and no reservation once again. Although they ultimately found Hopkins a room, the staff failed to explain the situation adequately or find a solution.
“People are struggling, and I try to be understanding, but customer service is even more important than it ever was,” adds Hopkins.
Check Your Flight Before You Leave Home
Airlines are experiencing the same staffing challenges as all businesses, but it’s not limited to cabin crews or customer service agents. Pilots are in short supply for airlines. In the United States, the industry is facing a wave of retirements from an aging workforce and fewer available pilots leaving the military for jobs in the private sector. Training is expensive and takes years, creating less opportunity to earn required credentials. Studies revealed the looming pilot shortage prior to the Covid pandemic, and now that travel has resumed, the demand exceeds the supply.
Employment issues and weather delays create an ideal environment for flight delays and cancellations. Over the 2022 Memorial Day weekend, Delta Airlines had around 900 canceled flights, and American Airlines around 500. There were thousands of delays, affecting the ability to catch connecting flights and stranding passengers. With a strained workforce, rescheduling or recouping ticket payments is difficult.
The best way to avoid the inconvenience and stress is to call before leaving for the airport to check on your flight. A simple phone call can prevent misinformation and set up a successful vacation. In this time of recovery, the happiest travelers will be the ones who know what to expect when they arrive.
Many good suggestions here. But one question: have you tried calling an airline anytime recently? "A simple phone call...can set up a successful vacation." only works if you can get through to the airline—and that has become difficult, if not impossible.