Comment: The blame game is undermining confidence

Arron Mitchell of tour operator Syte and agency Resfeber adds to calls for greater industry collaboration

Many moons ago, I was on a project to install a new piece of reservation technology and had to attend a meeting to address some issues with the software. I walked into the meeting to be greeted by various departments blaming other departments for various failures and it ended up being a bit of a free-for-all.

Why is this relevant? Well reading all the articles and social media posts about travel’s restart, it seems everyone is blaming someone else for the failure to provide a service.

Airlines are blaming the government for their handling of the pandemic and support to the industry, which let’s be honest, could have been much better had they responded to industry requests to an open dialogue.

Meanwhile, the government is blaming the airlines for going back to pre-pandemic schedules without having resources in place. Let’s look at the case of British Airways. They have plenty of interest in new recruits for cabin crew; what they can’t do is put them through training until they have cleared security vetting.

Security vetting is taking some considerable time because they are processing requests for every airport, every handling agent and every airline. Not only that they are having to process requests for third-party providers to the airports/airlines such as fuel, catering, cleaners, special assistance providers, shops, bars and restaurants.

Now let’s look at the airports; they have to get over the recruitment issue. Handling agents’ pay is around £10.50-£12 per hour for customer-facing roles which come with unsociable hours. Aldi pay starts at £10ph. So clearly the people working at the airport are doing it because they love their jobs, because if they didn’t they would go and work anywhere else for similar money and more sociable hours.

Because it’s a challenge to sell the roles, the fact remains airports are short-staffed across various functions, whether that be airlines, handling agents, security, border force, bars, restaurants or shops – all of which play a pivotal part in the customer experience through the airport.

Recently I’ve seen posts relating to security and check-in queues and comments such as “disgusting”, “disgrace” and the like. What everyone forgets is that the airlines still have to check Covid documents for select destinations and they also still have to do more checks on passports etc due to the 10-year and three-month rule for travel. They would also much rather turn someone away at check-in than the boarding gate otherwise they will have to delay the flight to locate the customers’ bags, which is far more expensive.

Queues are generally pretty hectic first thing in the morning as every airline prepares their aircraft for departure. But having travelled through Bristol and Heathrow during peak times, while the queues look pretty horrendous, they actually move fairly quickly.

Instead of blaming other functions, the industry needs to come together to look at ways to resolve the current issues; throwing blame and mud around is a waste of resources and not conducive to customer confidence in the travel industry. This applies to tour operators and travel agents too.

Everyone who plays a part can do better to resolve the current situation. Agents and operators can better educate their customers on preparing for travel. It’s easy to forget that some customers haven’t travelled for several years now. By managing expectations, the customers will be more prepared for queues or delays.

Airlines, airports and handling agents need to look at their employment packages. What can they do to make these roles more attractive to candidates?

And the government can work with the Civil Aviation Authority and Department for Transport to look at ways to safely expedite the vetting process without compromising security.

By working together we can reinstill confidence in travelling this summer, which face it, is much needed after a dire two years!

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