Cancellations increasing agents’ workload and client anxiety

Airline cancellations are heaping further work on already busy travel agencies and making some clients question whether to go ahead with their bookings, according to the trade.

Agents said airline cancellations have become the number one topic of conversation amid fears cancellations could spread to less-affected regional airports.

They welcomed action to reduce airport disruption this summer but said flight cancellations were not only increasing their workload but also anxiety levels among clients.

Gatwick has announced a cap on flights this summer and easyJet, the biggest airline out of the airport, has cut more than 10,000 flights.

Agents said advance notice of cancellations was vital to allow them time to change clients’ bookings after chaotic scenes at airports over half-term caused by flights ditched at the last minute.

Sandra McAllister, managing director at Althams Travel, said staff were often having to work late to catch up on the administration caused by last-minute flight cancellations.

She said: “Cancelling flights causes pressure on the staff on the counter at a time when demand is strong; customers are flooding in but agents are getting caught up in all the administration.

“What Gatwick is doing is better because agents will have more time [to rebook] and clients will have more options available to them because of the longer notice period.”

More: EasyJet makes ‘pre-emptive’ flight cancellations

Holidaymakers remain nervous about flying this summer, say agents

InteleTravel UK director Tricia Handley-Hughes agreed agents’ workloads had increased but added: “We are finding people do not want to give up their holidays and are happy for agents to re-book them whenever possible. Advance warning also gives agents the opportunity to build strong customer relationships and demonstrate the values of using a trusted agent.”

Full Circle Travel owner Niall Douglas also called on tour operators to pass on details of cancellations “in a prompt manner” to give them time to make booking changes for clients.

Kelly Cookes, leisure director of Advantage Travel Partnership, said clients feared cancellations could spread to other airports. The consortium said one in three calls to its members were on flight concerns.

She said: “The Gatwick announcement seems to show a pragmatic approach to trying to minimise last-minute cancellations and avoid scenes like we saw over the half term holidays but customers are concerned that other announcements may follow.”

So far the worst-affected airports have been Gatwick, Heathrow, Manchester and Bristol while agents near other airports have seen less disruption to clients’ bookings.

Premier Travel director Paul Waters said his agency’s local airports of Norwich and Stansted had avoided major cancellations and given him hope that summer departures “will not be impacted either”.

He said: “Yes, they will be busy but that’s what we would expect through the key summer months with increased passenger levels.”

But some agents fear the cancellations and high profile media coverage is starting to hamper bookings.

Martyn Fisher, owner, Greenstar Travel, Surrey, said: “I think it’s putting people off booking. I’ve no facts to prove that but it is quieter in the branch than it was and when you throw in higher energy bills and inflation costs it’s the perfect storm.”

Fred Olsen Travel head of commercial Paul Hardwick said “numerous” clients had questioned the company about their holidays amid a clear increase in anxiety levels, with some deciding to switch to regional airport departures in a bid to avoid disruption or book an ex-UK cruise so as not to have to travel through an airport.

He said the “biggest fear” among clients was that cancellations would hit the summer holidays, adding: “There has been a shift to regional airports, which customers feel will be less impacted than the bigger airports and we have also seen a surge in ex-UK cruising with customers opting for this as a holiday rather than having to worry about flight cancellations.”

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