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  • Writer's pictureDavid Natale

The Airline Conundrum

Why you are better off booking directly at the moment

Raise your hand if you booked airfare this year thru a cruise line or an agent and then had a flight change and tried to make an adjustment yourself online only to be told, “contact the agent or entity that booked your ticket”.

I see you out there. That's a LOT of hands!

If you're one of the few who got thru this year of air travel unscathed count yourself lucky or well prepared. But know this... things are changing, and as always, I want to keep you informed to my way of thinking when planning airfare for your trip.

Over the years I've given a variety of suggestions regarding air travel and cruises, all based on personal experience, current knowledge, and the claims and promises of the provider and their abilities to follow thru. It used to be relatively simple to guide people towards the right fare, routes, and airlines. These days? It's like the Sword of Damocles hangs over my head with every single airfare.

Naturally, that nasty virus that haunted us all the past years is largely to blame, but so are poor management and greed.

Last year, Covid presented a variety of challenges which allowed those who had booked their air thru travel agents to sit back and put their feet up while their agent dealt with the myriad changes, interminably long hold times, and frustrating daily policy changes at the airlines. TAs filed for credits, kept track of constant flight changes, and re-booked their clients - sometimes multiple times.

The same went for those booking directly with the cruise lines who had dangled all sorts of incentives to entice clients to invest in the future of travel. Mid-Covid, cruise lines were doing their best to convince us all that travel would soon be back and to not only book our cruises in anticipation, but to allow them to handle the air reservations by claiming that their connections would smooth over disruptions. They made all manners of promises to get those reservations and offered programs like flexi-deposits and free cancellation before ticketing.

Well, after the last 9 months of cancellations and frustrations and the joy of having hundreds of guests fly thru European airports while trying (sometimes in vain) to help people adjust after missed connections and other travel delays I am once again recalibrating my recommendations on booking air for your upcoming cruise journeys:

"book direct with the airlines on their booking sites for the best protection based on the current conditions."


Well, the answer is quite strait forward.

When the airlines are overwhelmed they prioritize their direct customers over everyone else and that means that some guests wind up with the worst connection corrections and the lowest level of service and help.

Some airlines, are even refusing to talk to the travel agents of booked guests unless they pay an additional fee (usually more than the agent made in commission to book the flight). Some are sending people to call for assistance to the cruise line whose own air departments are "off for the weekend" and the guests wind up getting the run around from an emergency email address.

Airlines have been telling unhappy guests disgruntled about missing a day of vacation or finding themselves suddenly stranded, "You are not the direct customer, you are merely the passenger. Your travel agent or cruise line is the first point of contact. If you are not happy with our offer, have them contact us."

3rd and 4th party users (you when booked thru any other means than directly with the airline) are the red headed step children of air travel.

What does it mean to be a 3rd party flyer?

Who is that 3rd party? Well, you when your flight comes thru someone else booking it for you.

Think of that old kindergarten game of telephone. The airline is the “person telling the story” to the next in line (the cruise line, the air consolidator, the travel agent) and you are at the end of that line.

Your class of service, the fare basis, and the ticket rules also all affect the level of service you get if you are bumped, cancelled, or miss a flight and need a new one.

My feeling at this moment in time is that while it might feel good to let someone else worry about booking the ticket, you are the one who has to fly or deal with a problem during travel and I want you as well armed as possible.

So for the foreseeable future, until I see a shift, I will be helping my guests identify good flight routes, but I would rather forego a commission on airfare and see my guests more protected by booking direct than have someone have a horrible experience so I can make $25.

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