While stuck at LaGuardia Airport for 7 hours due to a delay last week, I was thinking about the issues facing our teachers who are traveling with their large groups when they encounter similar situations. Let’s face it – in travel, stuff happens, and weather, equipment problems, and any host of other issues can cause delays to occur. It’s one thing for a single traveler to have to deal with a delay, and that in itself can be a bit of a nightmare. Tempers get frayed and the best plans get ruined under the best of circumstances when flights are delayed for only a couple of hours. But now add 30 people and group travel to the mix and you have a whole different ball game.
First, most of us who travel regularly, tend not to check our bags. That is a huge advantage when you are faced with a delay because you can move around easier and abandon ship quickly without having to wait for your bags to be retrieved. But mostly everyone traveling with a group has checked their bag so there’s no flexibility.
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Furthermore, everyone traveling with a group is super time-sensitive about their scheduled itinerary. There are excursions, dinners, a tour guide, you name it, everything is synchronized around an arrival and a departure date. If you change one day, you cause a ripple effect that sometimes is tough to recover. Three days in Paris is not easily tradeable. There are trains and timed entrances that hang on these itineraries. One day off can throw a whole year of planning out the window. All of the meetings that have taken place to prep the groups, prepare the parents, and then all of a sudden, a weather delay can throw off the entire itinerary.
That’s why it’s so important to have a service-oriented organization that’s ready to make adjustments quickly and do everything to make this better. At ACIS, that’s what we try to do–make it better, accommodate requests, shift itineraries around, stay in constant touch with teachers at airports, and try to intervene and assist in guiding airline representatives as they attempt to sort out the mess. The number of emails flying around here during a delayed flight is astonishing. Everyone is trying to help to get our clients to their end destination as efficiently as possible without skipping a beat.
It is not always easy and not always seen as such. From our point of view, we try to think for the airline, look at options, and beat the crowds that have already formed at the gate as delays and inevitable cancellations start to cause havoc. Just being able to see things that the rest of the delayed passengers can’t see, gives our ACIS passengers a key advantage. Our air team is always looking to resolve this stuff ahead of the airlines. If we can think for the airlines and come up with solid suggestions, we can beat the crowds. That’s what we want to do. Tour managers at the other end are busy accommodating these changes as well. They are trying to figure out how to sync the late arriving group with an itinerary that doesn’t quite look like it did.
We also ask airlines to accommodate groups, if they have the flexibility, by extending a day wherever possible. Sometimes that works, but sometimes it doesn’t if there just isn’t the space on the return journey to accommodate. Plus sometimes groups do not have the flexibility to add an extra day. We add stuff to itineraries and redress the things that have been missed. We want to get this trip of a lifetime back on track. Usually, we succeed.
The most important part in all of this is the group leader. They set the tone. They are the leader. We work closely with the group leader to deliver the best possible trip under the circumstances and are always grateful when teachers show their true “global traveler” colors by rallying their groups around the revised plan.
At the end of the day, flight delays are an unfortunate fact of life. The best anyone can hope for is to roll with the punches and make the best of it. That’s all the easier when you’ve got the entire team at ACIS with you every step of the way.