|by Jason Steele|
Like most of the world, I have been riveted by the events in Cairo this week. Having been there, I immediately recognized Tahrir square where the Egypt Antiquities Museum is and the center of the protests. Earlier this week, I shared my observations of the chaos at the Cairo airport that predates the current crisis as well as my thoughts on what I would do if I were trying to get out of a country that is overcome by political turmoil.
It turns out that Brett Snyder, AKA The Cranky Flier, has been working with ticket holders to Cairo through his Cranky Concierge business. It turns out that some airlines, like British Airways, are doing everything they can to assist passengers in rebooking or refunding travel that was planned for Cairo. Sadly, others, like Air France, are barely lifting a finger. Brett cites success in rebooking an Air France passenger, but only after using some of his back channel travel contacts.
These experiences tell us a few things. First, there is always flexibility in the rules, especially during an unprecedented event like what is going on in Cairo. Too often, a low level customer service agent might not be willing or even able to offer the flexibility, but it doesn’t mean that it is not there. It can be very difficult to get in touch with a sentient being at some airlines. Customer service agents are trained to act like robots, citing and adhering to even the most absurd policies. They will often do this as if their jobs depend on it, as it often does. It can take incredible persistence to break past the first level or two of people who’s job it is to tell you know in order to reach someone empowered to perform actual customer service. If anything, this episode with Air France makes me realize that it is not just domestic airlines that are paralyzed by this blind, rule following mindset.
Lesson number two is how valuable a travel expert can be. Even if you are a travel expert, a service like Cranky’s is still invaluable in a situation like this. A traditional travel agent can also provide assistance, but I wouldn’t expect much from an online travel behemoth like Expedia or Travelocity.
What To Do
If your travel plans include Cairo, or any other region that is experiencing political unrest, do not hesitate to contact your airline immediately. If they are no showing you the flexibility you think they should, don’t give up. Politely end the call and try again with another agent. Ask for a supervisor. Contact their customer relations department. Try other methods of communication such as email. Every problem has a solution, some just take more work to find.