It’s that time of the year: time for my New Year’s resolutions for the travel industry, my wish list of what should be done, what can be done and a celebration, if you will, of at least the promise of common sense for 2023.
Let’s be honest. No one gets up in the morning excited about going to an airport. We’re not going there for fine dining; we’re not heading to the airport for a great retail shopping experience; we’re not racing to the airport to entertain our friends, or to be entertained. In reality, none of us wants to go TO an airport. We just want to get THROUGH it. After all, there’s only one reason we go to an airport: to catch our flight. But it’s clear that the people who design and build airports have never flown. And airports have a business model that now depends on us spending money at the airport. The U.S. has not had a truly new airport since the Denver airport was built a few decades ago. And the airports that are now being renovated — like LaGuardia, may be bright, gleaming and shining, but they are NOT passenger friendly. Now, travelers have to endlessly walk past dozens of retail establishments, bars and restaurants to finally get to their plane. And where are the people movers? They’re too short and not really functional. Why? Airport authorities don’t want you to bypass retail!. At the same time, don’t let cute design touches make you think the airport is actually caring about you. Those lovely rocking chairs at some airports — what’s the message they’re really sending? You’re going to be here awhile.
My wish: airports designed — or redesigned for travelers, not airlines — where gates are accessible without two-mile walks, where baggage carts are at the gates (where you really need them) and not at baggage claim, two miles later.
And if you’re thirsty or hungry, let’s get rid of captive audience pricing: $17 beers and $12 hot dogs are borderline criminal. Airports should be promoting regular city prices.
Customs and Immigration and Passport Control:
First and last impressions mean everything when it comes to travel. And too many countries don’t realize this when staffing their borders at airports. I’m talking about 32 inspection stations that are only manned by eight people and two to three hour waits after an 11-hour flight just to enter a country and the exact same problem when trying to leave. If you build 32 inspection stations….man them!
And while I’m at it, my other wish: pre-clearance at more major foreign airports. Pre-clearance has actually been around since 1952, and it’s now in places like Canada, the Bahamas, Ireland, even Abu Dhabi. What preclearance does — without jeopardizing security — is that passengers bound for the U.S. from these foreign destinations, clear U.S. passport control and customs in those countries, processed by U.S. Customs officers based there. It’s a great idea. By clearing overseas, when your flight arrives in the U.S., there are no lines. Just grab your bags and go home or your bags automatically transfer to your connecting flight. How much time and stress have you saved?
My New Year’s wish: install preclearance at the major choke point airports around the world: London, Paris, Frankfurt, Hong Kong, and Tokyo for starters. The technology already exists. The physical space already exists. And the result is no more wasted time, no more misconnecting international passengers and bags…for starters.
It’s time to end the insidious resort fee. In reality, the resort fee is nothing more than a tax dodge by hotels that don’t want to pay higher occupancy taxes on room rates. And because the resort fee is not a quoted or published room rate, the hotels keep more of the money from those resort fees — which really have nothing to do with the word “resort.” But the resort fee is not often disclosed at the time you make your reservation or even when you check in. And then comes the sticker shock when you check out and get your bill and find out you’ve been paying as much as $70 a night for a resort fee that may have only included a beach towel and some sparkling water.
My New Year’s wish: full disclosure, honesty and transparency in hotel pricing. or, at the very least, the industry realization and acknowledgment that resort fees are negotiable.
These days, it’s almost a safe bet that if some airlines wanted to be honest about the message they’re sending travelers, it would be “we’re not happy until you’re not happy.” It’s time to a return to better customer service, with real human beings engaged in thoughtful and helpful conversations with their passengers, and giving those customer service agents the tools they had 20 years ago — to come to the rescue. I hate kiosks. They can’t answer my questions or provide solutions. Kiosks cannot solve my problems…or yours. They ARE the problem.
And no, there’s no app for common sense in the travel experience. But there IS common sense. It may sound old school, but it’s true: travelers and travel providers do better with human interaction.
Bottom line: we are not self loading cargo. We are human beings and we deserve those conversations.
Cruise lines need to change their itineraries to include more immersive shore experiences. Too many ships arrive at harbors at 8 AM and leave by 4 PM. That’s hardly enough time to experience anything other than a bad gift shop. We’ve come to look at cruise ships as the destination inherited world instead of the amazing vehicles to get us to see the world. Instead, let’s get back to the future as the DESTINATION should get the star billing as well as the time to experience it. And towards that end, most destinations should make it a requirement that no cruise ship can call there unless the ship overnights at least one night at that port, giving passengers more time to discover culture, history and of course, the people.
So, here’s to 2023, and the hope that our opportunities to see the world remain — as long as we embrace basic common sense and respect. But my fear is that you may end up finding me — like you — sitting in one of those airport rocking chairs hoping just to leave the airport!
Happy New Year everyone.