By Rodger Cook, General Manager – Global Security Services for Cover-More Group’s global traveller assistance company World Travel Protection
The bounce-back of air travel after the easing of pandemic restrictions was a welcome step towards normality. And for some business travellers, the thrill of getting on a plane extended beyond just work responsibilities to encompass ‘bleisure’ which, as the name suggests, factors in leisure activities. But the resumption of flights did highlight a broad disconnect in attitudes to customer service. Because while the community, generally, was accommodating in the face of service delivery issues with retailers, restaurants, bars, clubs and the like, that patience did not extend to aviation.
But what prompted this difference and disconnect? Did we expect too much from airlines – and too soon? Had we just run out of pandemic patience? And were we, the business traveller, to blame in part? You may remember some aviation leaders blamed travellers for forgetting how to move through security screening at airports. But was it forgetfulness or simply that post-pandemic travel overloads us with things to consider?
Prior to COVID-19, business travel was pretty much a case of pack a bag, grab your passport, check your visa and make sure you have money, toiletries, your phone and laptop.
Factors in play were much the same as they had always been. What’s the forecast? What’s the dress code? Do I need a suit?
Nowadays it’s all changed – and will continue to do so. While pandemic restrictions and entry requirements have eased for many countries, there are still destinations that require proof of vaccine and a negative Covid test, which can be tricky for multi-country trip planning.
Exiting a country hasn’t necessarily been easy, either. The pressure on airlines to add enough routes and get staff back in the sky has meant pain at the check-in counter and plenty of cancelled flights.
Covering the basics
One consideration that has taken on extra weight has been travel insurance and the assistance that goes with it.
Before the pandemic, business travellers generally assumed their employer had insurance to cover them for every eventuality and the magical phone number they had on a card or in an app would work when they needed it to.
That’s no longer the case and business travellers now pay more attention to details. They want to know they will be supported if forced to quarantine, what happens if their flights are cancelled, how they will get home safely if presented with a security event and what allowances are in place for medical assistance.
Travellers need to ask what sits behind the insurance their company has purchased. Does their assistance company have clinically current physicians and experienced security professionals available 24 hours a day? Insurance is vital to pay the bills but it is the assistance company that will do the heavy lifting.
This kind of diligence is also something we need to apply across our wider travel plans, rather than laying responsibility at the feet of employers or airlines. So, what other areas do we need to be mindful of with our travel preparations?
For those people used to tapping and paying by phone, it can be an adjustment to realise this technology hasn’t been rolled out globally. While many Australians have claimed cash is going the way of the dodo, that’s not the case in most countries. So, while the pandemic pushed people towards more hygienic payment methods, such as cards or phones, you always need a fallback by way of cash.
Passports are also more in focus. When we used them every week, it was easy to make sure they still had at least six months’ validity. But, as we’ve seen in headlines covering the delay in getting new passports, out of sight meant out of mind, leaving many people to overlook the fact theirs had expired. We also saw many travellers arrive at the airport only to be denied entry to the plane because their passport was too close to its expiry date. And that’s not the airline’s fault.
Put simply, we have forgotten many of the things that make travelling easier, from packing remedies for common ailments, to bringing comfort items that help ease the impact of long-haul flights on our wellbeing. And, while it can be confronting to realise you’ve been deserted by a planning system that once served you well, you can build a new routine.
Medications are one obvious consideration, but there are other precautions you may need to question. For example, will you be carrying commercial in confidence information that could be targeted in some jurisdictions? Do you have smartphone apps you can’t take into some countries? You might be surprised to learn some of the highest-profile names in niches such as ride-sharing and communication are banned in some nations.
And, with the renewed focus on bleisure, some travellers are finding themselves in dangerous situations they haven’t faced before, where the nightmare of theft, assault and worse becomes real.
Sometimes this is bad luck, but it could also be argued our long period of enforced grounding has eroded the capacity for normal forethought and precaution, lost in the desire to finally cut loose. But getting on a plane should never be a prompt to lose our common sense in the desire for fun.
The critical message
The key to easy and efficient journeys has always been preparation. Remembering what worked for you before and applying basic principles and common sense around updated global circumstances will best prepare you.
Rodger Cook is the General Manager, Global Security Services for Cover-More Group’s global traveller assistance company, World Travel Protection, with 30 years’ experience working in high-risk destinations supporting travel risk management programs.