A sunset on passenger boarding a plan on the tarmac

How Airlines Handle A Surprise Travel Ban

In 2017, the U.S. President issued a travel ban to the United States for citizens of seven mostly Muslim countries – Iran, Iraq Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen, for 90 days. This ban also seems to include legal U.S. residents like green card holders and dual-citizens, from re-entering the country. But to be honest, it’s all a little vague. Oh, and apparently this order lets the U.S. Department of Homeland Security ban more countries too, whenever they want. So there could be more to come.

Now this isn’t a political blog, it’s a customer service one.

Due to this decision, airlines are being forced to turn away many passengers enroute to the U.S., all around the world. And it’s news that is being picked up on all major news outlets.

So, in the face of this declaration, let’s look at how the airlines of the world reacted to best serve their customers. Spoiler alert: Meh.

Travelling by Canada, eh

Air Canada issued this statement, offering refunds and free flight changes, and including…
“Like other carriers we are required to ensure passengers have the required documents for entry into, or transit the countries they are travelling to. In the case of these nationalities, they are not permitted to enter the US.‎”

You can feeeeel the warmth.

There were some reactive responses over Twitter today, but their one proactive tweet, not so very helpful (*cough* sarcasm). On Facebook, no mention at all, and a few questions/comments unanswered.

Canada’s second largest air carrier, WestJet does feel the need to get the travel ban information out to its customers. They released an advisory to travellers:

Effective January 27, 2017, guests travelling with a passport issued from Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Somalia, Syria, Yemen or Libya are prohibited from entering or transiting the United States for at least 90 days. Immigrant and Non-immigration visas issued in these passports have been revoked.

Please contact your local U.S. Embassy if you require any additional information.

WestJet is temporarily waiving the change and cancellation fee for guests who are impacted by this travel advisory:

  • Cancel your reservation – we’ll offer a refund for the full amount paid.
  • Change your destination – just pay any difference in fare. If your new itinerary costs less, we’ll give you a travel bank credit for the difference.

And on Facebook and Twitter, another share of this information, and any engagement is directing people to the U.S. embassy.

Worldwide Airline Reaction

Over on Bloomberg News, they summarize some of the global airline reaction and statements to President Trump’s travel ban decision:

  • Delta Air Lines Inc. issued a statement saying it would contact customers affected by the ban about rebooking options including refunds. (though nothing on social media)
  • Emirates provided this statement (so very stiff),  “A very small number of our passengers traveling were affected by the new U.S. immigration entry requirements implemented by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection today.”
  • British Airways is offering customers “a refund for their travel to the U.S.” and giving passengers the option of rebooking flights. (nothing online)
  • American Airlines Group Inc. and industry trade group Airlines for America declined to comment to Bloomberg News, referring questions to the U.S. government.

The Better Approach

With the amount of worldwide attention on this, I’m absolutely shocked the airlines are being so quiet about what they’re doing for their customers to reassure them and to help them during this travel ban. If you looked at the airline’s proactive social media, you’d assume they didn’t know this was happening or this was not worth mentioning.

The airlines were given no warning and are probably scrambling to figure out next steps. And, there are still many questions as to what this means moving forward. But, that traveller stuck in the airport, unable to return to loved ones, doesn’t care. To the world watching, they see airlines issuing cut and paste messaging with little empathy.

It would be nice to see:

  1. Some humanity (aka empathy) provided by the airlines for the plight of their passengers.
  2. Engage, engage, engage with customers worried for their flight plans but also those of their family members.
  3. Admittance from the airlines that they don’t know everything but they are working with the U.S. government and other governments to do what they can to help their customers and future customers. And update. And update. And update. Even if nothing much has changed.

Remove the politics of it and this is a customer experience issue: a group of customers impacted by circumstances beyond their control, looking for help and understanding while deeply stressed and angry. I haven’t seen anything from customers about their experiences yet, I can only see what the airlines are proactively doing. And it could be better.

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