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Holiday blues: The challenges of travel customer experience


Evelyn Hamilton draws upon her considerable experience in the travel sector to shine a light on some of the CX challenges and opportunities that the industry faces.

17th May 2023

Do you remember the endless lines of people at baggage check-in? How long it took to pass through security? The cancelled last minute flights? The mislaid baggage?

Last summer, the number of travellers outstripped the travel industry’s capability to operate at the highest level of its capacity. Consumers were upset when they went back to travel a year after the covid-19 restrictions and lockdown were lifted. The World Health Organization declared that covid-19 was no longer a global emergency on May 3, 2023. But it still looks like the same consumer experience might happen again.

Airports are still reducing passenger capacity this year. The U.S. government is asking airlines to reduce summer flights from New York airports. Delta, United, JetBlue, and American Airlines are preparing to cut flights in and around New York City this summer due to a shortage of air traffic controllers in the nation's busiest airport.

Europe will keep flying during summer. However, the Dutch government announced that Schiphol would be limited to 440,000 flight movements per year from November 2023 to reduce pollution. KLM, KLM Cityhopper, Martinair, Transavia, Delta Air Lines, Corendon TUI, and EasyJet will be affected.

Travellers want to know why there are so many CX issues when all they want is customised service and faster response times, so here’s a little background:

Airport pressures

Some airport companies have decided to limit the number of people who can use their services during busy times. For example, this summer, airlines won't be able to add more flights to London's Heathrow Airport during the summer peak.

Airlines often cancel flights at the last minute if they are overbooked and don't have enough planes in their fleets.

Last year, some planes or staff weren't on standby, which caused delays that couldn't be stopped. This year, airports are telling airlines to be careful and are putting limits on flights to force them to look at their schedules.

In spite of this, many airlines still book flights even though their overhead margins are so small. However, they often cancel flights at the last minute if they are overbooked and don't have enough planes in their fleets.

Another reason could be that there isn't enough crew to legally fly, or that there are delays at other airports that make it hard to get from one airport to another. This is because airports and flight routes are connected.


There are many problems with pay and working conditions for people who work on the ground, in security, on planes, and in air traffic control. If they go on strike, services are cut back. During a trip, this can affect things like gate changes, flight times and availability, the times retail stores are open, and the cleaning services.

Self-service issues

Many times, travellers have trouble with the self-check-in desk or bag drop area, which puts more pressure on the check-in desk.

For example, if you haven't booked a seat and the plane is already full, you won't be able to self-check in. This is also the case for if you need to check your citizenship, get a visa, or meet any other extra requirements for the country you are going to.

You could also be flagged in the system if your ID information doesn't match, if the airline needs to check your credit card, or if they need to move you to a different seat.

Loss of experienced staff

At every point where a traveller or customer interacts with a travel professional, that person is trying to manage the customer's expectations so that they can give the best service possible.

But a traveller's emotional stress is often put on the person on the other end of the transaction. Whether it's a flight attendant, a hotel receptionist, or a customer service agent – both sides can feel and experience the mental strains right away.

Rarely do employees get training on how to deal with a large number of emotional and stressed travellers, which leads to burnout. Add to this the fact that covid had a long-term effect on hiring because so many experienced workers left the industry and never came back.

The lack of staff, the stress of long hours, and the fact that people don't want to work in the industry all affect customer service.

The lack of staff, the stress of long hours, and the fact that people don't want to work in the industry all affect customer service.

Ineffective strategy planning

Seasonal peaks are normal, but they are not handled well. Airports – like all other travel providers – know when they are full. Forecasting is based on data from the past and feedback from customers at different times of the year.

At the moment, there isn't a job role for a seasonal manager to be put in charge of seasonal peaks, and for them to be responsible for taking action. Instead, it affects different people in different parts of the airline and airport, which makes it harder to find solutions that can be implemented.


All of these points impact the travel industry (especially aviation) and customer service issues are interconnected and shared across departments and companies – being influenced by policies, regulations and more.

The role of customer service is to provide additional support and help to customers as they face all of these challenges.

By blending the ‘human touch’ – which includes empathy, understanding and technical support integrated by technological innovations to make travel seamless across all touchpoints – the travel industry can be more attractive to all customers who are disheartened by the expected level of service that they experience.


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