Plagued by Airline Meltdowns, Lost Luggage, and Tech Issues, Will This be the Summer of Travel Nightmares? — Photo by Above Property Services (APS)

Just last month, my email pinged with an after-hours notification. I’m sorry, but we will have to reschedule our meeting for tomorrow morning, an incoming email from my colleague read. My flight has been delayed – this trip home has been a disaster. I didn’t yet know the reason for his frustrating journey home, but if I’m being honest, I had a hunch. Over the last year, all eyes have been on the travel sector. Not only because the travel demand has surged back to life with a vengeance (revenge travel seems to be the presiding trend of 2023, after all) but because major travel brands have had a number of very public meltdowns.

In November 2021, American Airlines experienced operational issues (specifically, issues with its reservations system combined with staffing shortages) that led to flight delays and cancellations across the country. In July of last year, reported staffing shortages at Heathrow Airport in London created a recipe for disaster when a baggage system malfunction occurred during high demand, causing thousands of bags to go missing. Just this past December, Southwest Airlines made headlines for a Christmas meltdown of epic proportions when its crew scheduling software became overwhelmed (in combination with other operational breakdowns), which resulted in the cancellation of over 17,000 flights. Shortly after the debacle, which became a PR nightmare for the airline, the pilots’ union described Southwest’s operation as being precariously ‘held together by duct tape.’

Similarly, Toronto Pearson International Airport has become notorious for long lines, delayed or canceled flights, and lost baggage. The reports involving Pearson have gotten so bad, in fact, that it was recently labeled one of the worst airports in the world. For weeks now, Air Canada and other airlines flying into and out of Toronto’s Pearson Airport, as well as airport and government officials, have been telling passengers that service has improved dramatically since the summer when the airport was labeled as the worst in the world. Well, don’t believe them — or at least be extremely skeptical, reads a recent Toronto Star article describing Pearson as a “nightmare” for travelers. If my recent experience is any indication, the chaos at Canada’s largest airport hasn’t improved much.

It would seem once the travel floodgates reopened in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, many major brands were, quite frankly, ill-equipped to service the long-awaited barrage of travelers. Now, as our industry braces for a historically busy summer travel season, the question on everyone’s mind is – can our industry handle it? Will hospitality brands rise to the occasion or crack under pressure due to lacking infrastructure?

The Technology Blame-Game

Let’s consider a scenario. Imagine you are in line at a local coffee shop, waiting for your morning caffeine fix. You notice that it’s taking longer than usual and peek around the patrons in order to catch a glimpse of the counter. There, you see an employee with a look of panic fixed on her face as she furiously calls out orders to the only other staff member working. Shouldn’t they have an automated system that provides the staff members fulfilling drink orders with an electronic chit detailing incoming orders? At the same time, you notice the woman at the cash register – the one calling out the orders – is painstakingly counting out the coins that a customer just handed her, attempting to manually do the math that will determine what change she owes the customer. Doesn’t the cafe have an electronic POS? Shouldn’t the till automatically do the math for the staff member? Shouldn’t she, at the very least, have access to a calculator? You glance back down at your watch and realize you don’t have time to continue waiting in line like this, so you head to the next nearest cafe en route to the office. There, you are treated to fast and seamless service with credit to the systems the first cafe seemed to be lacking, which is enough reason for you to become a regular customer.

This scenario illustrates the decision of a business to refrain from investing in essential tools and technology that would empower its staff to serve customers as intended. When lacking technology collides with limited employees, chaos and disappointment often ensue. In this case, the first cafe can’t skirt the blame when the restaurant up the road has all the systems and processes they lack.

Legacy Technology Must Go – Once and For All

Within hospitality, we come face to face with the same conundrum. Travel and hospitality brands have become accustomed to passing the buck and displacing blame whenever a large-scale operational meltdown occurs, but is it not a choice to resist technological innovation? Every choice bears a consequence, and the importance of modernizing technology to avoid operational disaster is, by now, well understood. To this effect, Southwest Airlines attempted to regain customer trust and goodwill following its Christmas meltdown by assuring the public that it has plans to “finally modernize operations.” Will other leading hospitality brands follow suit? We can only hope because if not, we may have a summer of travel nightmares ahead of us.

Legacy technology is more of a threat to a brand and its staff than digital transformation ever could be; after all, great technology empowers hospitality brands to put people first. Whether it is reinforcing and improving the guest experience or empowering staff to do more with less at a time when the efforts of each team are already stretched thin, platform innovation paves the way to a more reliable, meltdown-free future. In this sense, hospitality brands that proactively invest in technology are simultaneously investing in their people while protecting their bottom line and brand reputation.

Without the widespread embrace of modern technology, hospitality brands will never be agile enough to continuously surmount emerging challenges while dutifully prioritizing the experience of their customers and staff. And as a hospitality company, when you fail to serve the people, you fail to do your job.

Simply stated, continued adherence to legacy technology makes airlines and hotels needlessly vulnerable to large-scale service disruption and breakdowns that their image may never fully recover. The industry now finds itself at a critical juncture, and travel and hospitality brands can no longer blame faulty technology if that is the technology they continue to rely on. CNN Business writes, Despite moving to modernize their equipment, in some cases airlines and the US government may still be reliant on technology that could be years or even decades old.

At a certain point, refusing (or delaying) digital innovation is no different than refusing to use a calculator to do complex math – even though everyone else is using the calculator.

About Above Property Services (APS™)

Above Property Services (APS™) is leading the charge to deliver innovative, scalable, and services-oriented platforms for the global travel industry and other related verticals. We think differently, and we are constantly innovating. APS offers the only platform that can evolve seamlessly in response to industry demands, with credit to a microservices architecture that empowers continuous development and refinement.

Built from the ground up, the APS ecosystem empowers continuous development and refinement of your critical business processes via a unique microservice architecture. Designed for performance, flexibility, security, and stability, the future-proof framework is up and running quickly, delivering a scalable, cost-effective solution that can work with or replace your existing tools and investments. APS is a platform that adapts to you – not the other way around.

Powering both large and small companies, we understand the industry's challenges in the past, and we have developed a platform that is suited for the future.

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Steve Lapekas
Above Property Services (APS)

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