My last blog post tried to prepare travelers for the reality of Covid restrictions and holiday travel. I want to focus on holiday travel and travelers’ role in the overall experience in this post. We have all heard the horror stories of unruly passengers and the obnoxious behavior that affects many others. Here are a few behind-the-scenes realities of airline agents I’d like you to be aware of next time you travel. I hope your knowledge will make you a kinder traveler.
Airline ticketing agent.
This person is probably your first point of contact at the airport. The ticketing agent checks your bag or handles any airline-related issue before you are even through security. Ticket agents are responsible for ticketing, baggage, complaints, cancellations, lost luggage, weather delays, and other traveler problems. They enforce rules made by the company, and they don’t personally make up rules just for you. And yes, they can be fired for not following the rules. So, when it comes to their livelihood or your demand, guess which takes priority?
Here are a few things I think they would like to tell you but can’t.
- No, we can’t just give a free upgrade, it’s a computerized system, and big brother is watching.
- Don’t be late and take responsibility for your poor planning and actions.
- Saying no is not being rude. We are following the rules made by the company, not by us.
- You get more with honey than vinegar. Treat me right, and I will do the best I can.
- If you’re rude and yelling, do you think I want to help you?
The gate agent is the person who, as the name suggests, works your departure gate. If you have traveled recently, you may have noted that there is usually only one or two gate agents at the departure gate. Due to airline cost-cutting, gate agents often work alone. They must meet the inbound flight, coordinate unaccompanied minors and wheelchairs, answer passengers’ questions, clear the standby list, process upgrades, and board the plane. If this seems like a lot of work, that’s because it is! Additionally, gate agents are also required to get the airplane out on time. This means getting every passenger onboard and seated before the airplane doors can be closed for departure.
Here are a few things I think they would like to tell you but can’t.
- We can see everything about your ticket, including how much you paid, when and where you paid. Lying about how expensive your ticket was or that it was a first-class ticket is pointless.
- On an oversold flight, we do have the discretion to move passengers to first class. However, the choice is usually automated and based on fare price or elite status. In rare cases, your behavior or the way you are dressed helps inform my decision.
- My boarding time decision depends on plenty of factors. Is the airplane clean? Does it have enough crew members? Does air traffic control have a hold on the boarding process? There are many other reasons, and staring at me or crowding the boarding area will not make the decision faster.
- We are accountable for getting the flight out on time except in the cases of weather or a mechanical delay.
- The computer system shows how many people are connecting and their chances of making the flight. Delaying the flight for just a few passengers is often not an option as the airplane must be at its destination at the designated time.
I know that traveling is stressful for passengers, but it is also stressful for the agents who work with hundreds of passengers daily. The airport is fast-paced and hectic, and there is rarely time for bathroom breaks. Give grace and practice kindness to your agents next time you travel.
If this has made you think differently about your previous airport experience, let me know.
Having traveled both professionally and personally, I can certainly attest to the travel envy often directed to me even though unheard and unseen but very present.
As an international flight attendant, my job took me all over the world. It was not uncommon for me to fly to unique destinations such as Paris, London, Buenos Aires, Bermuda, or Madrid within the same month. At the same time, I was still a mother and a wife and had to contend with all that those roles entailed. I quickly learned when trying to establish a relationship in the community, to gloss over my job. Mentioning destinations seem to bring on the envy of travel and I would quickly say “I’m a flight attendant” and change the subject as many seemed to hear my destinations as a brag. I would get responses along the direction of “oh how nice” or “that’s wonderful.”
It was not unheard of to get responses like “what about your kids?” or “how does that work with your husband and kids?” With my explanation that it was just a job like any other, I would inevitably get the response “it must be nice!” To me, that was the code for travel envy. I quickly learned in conversations to say that I was “going to work” or “going on a work trip.” Always conscious to never say a destination.
As an ex-pat in Europe and Asia, there were plenty of opportunities to travel in those areas. Thankfully I had learned from my professional travel experience to not discuss my travel plans in depth when having conversations with family and friends. Here too, the refrain “it must be nice” was also heard.
It was an honor and privilege to be a flight attendant for over twenty years and to fly to so many unique destinations. However, it was also a job and many times after long haul flights, the only part of the city seen was the hotel room. My personal travel was quite different as destinations such as Bali or Bangkok were planned with itineraries and time to complete them all.
I can certainly empathize with the travel envy now that Covid has canceled so many travel plans for me. But I know as long as I travel, there are many others whose dream of travel is unmet. So, I am very careful in discussing my travel plans and limiting or tailoring those discussions to the audience.
Have you ever experienced travel envy? How do you handle it? Does my story strike a chord? I’d love to hear your take.
As an avid world traveler who has done this both professionally and personally, my carry-on is always semi-packed. Here are my tips and advice on the 5 items I consider must-haves and should always be in my carry on.
1. A lingerie organizer bag (details on another blog post). The one I use has two sides, one for clean underwear and the other for dirty. You never want to get them confused!
2. An electronic organizer bag (blog post coming). With people being so connected it is so inconvenient to lose connectivity and most hotels do not provide enough power outlets for the technology we use in our daily lives.
3. A toothbrush which in my opinion is even more needed than the electronic organizer. Many people pack this in their suitcase but with the chances of your luggage being lost, I like to always have this at hand.
4. A medicine bag with items like Tums, ibuprofen, cold medicine, etc. I tend to also have eye masks, face masks, prescription medications, band-aids, Neosporin, alcohol pads, and such (more on another post).
5. Finally I always have a small makeup bag with the basics like mascara, lip moisturizer, lipstick, makeup remover cloths, toner, and face moisturizer. These are always found at beauty supply stores and pharmacies in travel sizes.
You make have other priorities for your carry-on. If so, what are they? I’d love to find out.
This was not my first trip since the outbreak of Covid 19, but with the resurgence and travel advisories against Thanksgiving travel, I had lots of inner struggle with my travel plans.
My first trip during Covid was the long trip back from Asia and it was a struggle trying to decide whether to stay in Asia or return to the US. As my youngest had braved Covid on her own for several months, I decided it was time to return home and be there for my daughter (see motherhood blog). As I was now in the US and only 3 hours away from my mom rather than 24, I planned my Thanksgiving travel. There was certainly a bit of angst as New York had been designated a hot spot.
However, my trip was a choice I felt I had to make. Having been an ex-pat for many years and not seeing my mom in a while, I looked forward to this visit. I had planned this trip well before the resurgence of covid concerns and realities. With a recent unexpected death in the family, I struggled with the thoughts of missed opportunities. Should I reschedule my trip? Covid was so unpredictable I wondered whether any other timing would be optimal for covid travel.
It is said that most family gatherings are at funerals and I struggled with the thought of canceling my trip and missing a positive family experience. Still and all, I am a prolific traveler, and I honestly missed the travel experience and was looking forward to the trip. I chose to keep my travel plans but wondered how much of my decision was a want and how much was a need. No one can predict the future, and my choice could be seen as unnecessary and risky. It could also be seen as a perfect time to choose family while they are around, rather than grieve for them or the missed opportunity to create memories.
I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences if you’ve had to make a similar choice. What would your choice be? Covid travel or not?