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Charla Huber: Cancelled flights and delays tough on front-line workers

If you find yourself in a frustrating situation, remember the front-line staff aren’t the cause of the problem, and they are taking the brunt of irritation.
People wait in line to check in at Pearson International Airport in Toronto. Frontline staff may not have caused the situation, but they are taking the brunt of customer irritation, writes Charla Huber. NATHAN DENETTE,THE CANADIAN PRESS

This past week, I boarded an airplane for the first time in years. It was a work trip and I travelled from Victoria to Cranbrook, then to Kelowna, and back to Victoria. A connecting flight in Vancouver was sandwiched between each destination.

Cancelled flights, long lineups and delays have been in the news lately and I wasn’t sure if it would affect me on this trip or not. I was most worried about long lineups and planned to give myself plenty of time.

We were catching an evening flight on Monday and by mid-afternoon, I started receiving texts from the airline saying the first flight was delayed. It didn’t bother me. There was a decent window between landing and catching the flight out of Vancouver to Cranbrook, and I had nothing to worry about.

As my daughter and I were at home packing, I got another text from the airline saying my flight to Vancouver was cancelled. With the first flight cancelled, I lost the second flight also.

I didn’t have time to stress. I went online and booked the next flight to Vancouver and rebooked the Cranbrook flight and we ran out the door. I had a meeting with the mayor of Cranbrook booked for 11 a.m.

There was no line at the security check and we waited for the flight.

I went to the desk for the airline we were flying with and waited for a staff member. I waited 15 to 20 minutes and eventually someone came. I could see from his face that he was bracing himself for something.

The airline automatically rebooked me for a flight to Cranbrook the following afternoon, but my meeting was booked with the mayor of Cranbrook in the morning. I wasn’t notified of the rebooked flight until I’d arrived at the airport and after I repurchased my flights.

I calmly told him the situation and asked him to note on my booking that we were catching a different flight, because I was worried the series of flights we booked over several days might be cancelled.

The airline wasn’t accepting any phone calls from customers. He said, “Yeah, you can’t reach someone by phone — even for staff it’s a 1 1/2-hour wait to speak to someone.”

I felt his pain.

My daughter and I sat next to the desk and waited for our flight to arrive. That flight also ended up delayed. We watched many worried customers make their way to the desk concerned about delays, making connecting flights and an assortment of other situations.

I totally understood. I was in the same boat.

I watched as both staff members navigated the situation, doing their best to comfort the customers. No one was rude or irate, but it was a constant stream of worried travellers.

As the desk cleared, I mentioned to the staff how hard their job must be and how tough to be the face of an issue that they have no control over. I saw their bodies relax slightly and small smiles appear.

I spoke to a couple who were also travelling to Cranbrook and were worried about catching the connecting flight. They, too, had their flights cancelled and had to rebook as I did. If all went well, we would have a 10-minute window to catch the connecting flight.

We made it on the flight, and the couple even drove us from the Cranbrook airport to our hotel.

I am writing this from a hotel room in Cranbrook, unsure if my flight to Kelowna will go as I hope. I haven’t spoken to the airline about getting reimbursed for the extra flights purchased, but I have faith it will all work out.

There is no doubt that airlines are having a hard time meeting the demand.

If you find yourself in a frustrating situation, remember the front-line staff aren’t the cause of the problem, and they are taking the brunt of irritation.

The airlines need more staff, so let’s be kind to the ones that are there, so they stay.

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