A simple question, and this weekend one of my colleague's customers has experienced the best possible answer first hand.
To set the scene – imagine a busy man treating his wife and kids at Christmas by sending them away on a wonderful New Year break to New York. What a way for the boys to get their first taste of America – some quality time with Mum before going back to school.
The first couple of days ticked all the boxes – they explored the Big Apple from top to bottom, enjoying a helicopter trip and a basketball game; they shopped, they ate, they drank. They were lucky enough to witness the Times Square festivities. What a way to bring in the New Year. Everything was going according to plan.
What they didn’t know – because our team was managing their booking for them with the airline – was that I received an email to advise me their return flight the next evening was cancelled. In fact, the whole of the North Eastern USA was bracing itself for a dramatically, but accurately named “Snow Bomb”. We received the email at 7.35am UK time. Having experienced this kind of situation before, we were aware swift action was vital. Our Travel Counsellor 24-hour Duty Helpline worked through the options. They checked the airline policy, whist also contacting the husband in the UK to bring him up to speed with the developing situation.
The New York airports are used to snow disruption, and have a well-practiced protocol for these storms. They cancel a large number of flights, but keep a few operational with extended time between each take-off and landing for safety. By acting quickly, we were able to rebook the family onto one of the flights for the following evening whilst seats were still available, with assurances from the airline that this flight was likely to still fly.
We then received a confused call from the husband in the UK. He had called his wife – waking her up – and she had told him there was no snow at all in New York. She was unaware of the gravity of the weather system that was on its way. Had she been managing her own flight booking, she may not have accessed her emails or been aware of the cancellation until some hours later. Seats sold very quickly, and she would potentially have been looking at challenging call queues to get through to the airline and the prospect of two or three extra nights in New York.
Within the first 60 minutes, we had rebooked her onto the next flight likely to leave New York, we had contacted the hotel to extend her stay without the need to leave her existing room, and we had rearranged her transport to the airport.
Contrast the next 24 hours spent by this lady and her teenage sons with that of the families featured on the news channels who hadn’t been advised of the cancellations, who had checked out of their hotels, and were trying to manage the situation for themselves at chaotic airports waiting in very long queues to be served by airline staff straining to accommodate the growing masses in the very few airport hotels with rooms left. Our customers were happy in the knowledge that they had an extra day in New York, and their only serious decision was whether to ice skate or have a snowball fight in Central Park. (To keep both boys happy, they did both).
Last night, we kept in touch with the lady and her husband, speaking to both as we all tracked their replacement flight and ensured that it was still operating. The hotel staff were great, and were ready to receive them back again if the flight was cancelled at the last moment. The flight was delayed by around an hour, but they final got airborne at around 4am our time. We were all tired out by the experience, but we are so proud of how the service our 24-hour duty office to gives our customers.