Travel is stressful. I am not entirely sure why it seems so much more so today than only a couple of years ago, but it does.
While not yet a blood sport, air travel has become distinctly adversarial. Passengers want the most for the least, and airlines try to provide the least for the most. In this conflict there will only be losers.
Starting with the price. Passengers, perhaps rightly, want to pay the least amount of money for their transportation. While understandable, it is worth pointing out that there is a spectrum in the relationship with the airlines.
The fare is not simply payment for the seat for passage from point A to point B. The amount paid also reflects other elements of your relationship: change possibilities, baggage allowance, seat selection, loyalty reward, and refund potential. Simply, one starts with a “full fare” ticket, and for each privilege that one is willing to forgo, the price drops.
In the event of disruption, of course, not all passengers are created equal. A higher loyalty status and a higher fare paid will boost one’s priority in any necessary rebooking process. The airlines are still obliged to compensate and reaccommodate everybody, but they determine the order.
Airlines are also, it should be noted, subject to detailed but laxly enforced passenger protection regulations. These regulations (APPR) determine levels of compensation that airlines are required to pay in the event of irregular operations. They do, however, play fast and loose with these obligations, and seem to fail to pay most of the monies owed to passengers.
Connections are another issue altogether.
Airports make money by attracting airline traffic. One of their tools is the efficiency in handling transfer passengers, measured by a self-determined “minimum connecting time.” This measure is, in theory, the minimum time between connecting flights that a passenger is “guaranteed” to make a connection. It does not always work.
Many, many studies show that after price, journey length is the most important factor in buying a ticket. Airlines know this, and vie to offer the shortest journey, including connecting times, however improbable they may be.
A 70-minute connection in Toronto between a domestic and international flight may work for the fittest, but it is not advised; similarly, a one-hour connection in Frankfurt, that involves clearing EU immigration, is nigh on impossible to make.
Yet airlines offer these options daily, and people book them. The result today, in airports already floundering under delivery problems, is vastly higher numbers of passengers stranded and missing important events.
There are some options.
Try and connect, if you must, in a smaller airport. Montreal is easier than Toronto, and Winnipeg far simpler than either. Calgary is a nightmare; built in anticipation of passenger loads decades into the future, there are often improbably long commutes between gates.
Take longer connections. If there is an option for a two-and-a-half-hour connection in Toronto, take it over the ninety-minute option. Consider an overnight stop at the gateway. Many of us, after a long flight to Canada, need to take a connection later that evening that returns us home close to midnight.
Unless pressed for time, consider stopping at the gateway, spending the night there and continuing home in the morning. Often you will have your baggage checked through and will only have to concern yourself with your hand luggage for the overnight stop.
Travel is adversarial, but we can all reduce our stress levels by stepping back and considering a slower option. Often the airline-offered choices on their website will not include a more leisurely journey, but a quick call to a good travel agent can give you more options and a far less pressured itinerary.
Globetrotting appears exclusively in Respect. For more Max, visit www.maxglobetrotter.com