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Infallibly Right Syndrome

Getting it right first time

We are all aware that many of the major complaints around air travel come from lost baggage and being "bumped" from a flight.

Not only are these complaints born out of anger, they are also highly frustrating. Lost baggage can mean a ruined holiday; being bumped can mean missing a vital meeting or interview.

Technology aims to make life easier, we are told and AI (or Artificial Intelligence) is supposed to make all aspects of the travel experience generally easier and (from an airline perspective) cheaper. Trouble is, AI does not extend to passengers. Passengers are remarkable in the amount of information that they do not consider, right from the moment that they decide that a trip to visit Aunty Flo is a good idea.

Complaints tend to fall into several of three categories: 1. Those that are inside the airline's control (e.g. how staff interact with customers, cabin cleanliness, overbooking) 2. Those that are outside (or outside-ish) the airlines control (e.g. contracted baggage handlers, contract caterers, weather) and 3. Those that are, at the end of the day, down to the passenger (e.g. not reading and/ or understanding fare rules).

As far as category (1) is concerned, we find that the passengers' erstwhile arch-enemy, RyanAir, has become those same passengers' best friends. Always ahead of the pack, RyanAir decided that actually being reasonable with people was not quite such a bad idea, after all ... and it seems to be paying dividends. Most other airlines, however, are still stuck in the downward spiral and it remains to be seen how long it takes before those in that spiral reach rock bottom.

With regard to category (2) there are two sub parts; aspects which are seriously out of airline control, such as weather (about which, frankly, little can be done) and those that are the result of the quest to find the cheapest solution. Costs are to be reduced and in certain cases, this may be achieved by sacrificing quality for quantity. It is a hard item to balance, granted, but it is clear that some airlines are finding that balancing trick harder than others.

It is category (3) that is the biggest concern and the interaction of that concern with AI. AI is clever stuff, but it does depend wholly on the Real Intelligence (RI) of the operator. The largest issue is that of "infallibly right syndrome" which affects all of us at some time or the other. Ever got into your car and driven to somewhere, sure in the knowledge of directions, only to find that actually, where you need to be is somewhere else?

In most situations in life, when there is a mistake it can be rectified, one way or the other. Buy a new vacuum cleaner and it does not work? Take it back to the shop and change it. Wrong turn? Turn round and go back. Still got a leaky pipe after the plumber has been? Call him (or her) back and try again. BUT in travel, make a mistake and what you were sure was a booking for the 18:00 flight, was actually the 06:00 - or you booked a flight Santiago, Chile instead of Santiago, Spain. How did that happen? Well, perhaps because AI decided that as you previously flew in the evening, 6.00 pm. was better than 6.00 am or that, as you visited Argentina a while back, Chile made some sort of sense. Trouble with AI is that you are only likely to find out at the check-in counter.

Even though there were repeated on-screen confirmations, you did not really check because of - Yes - "infallibly right syndrome". Ironically, the more experienced a person is at booking their own travel, the greater this risk becomes.

Travel agents (that is, the few of us old school types that are left) have this need to reconfirm everything about 20 times ingrained into them from an early age. We don't accept "Okay!" as an answer or "that should work" or, simply, "Yes". Agents do not accept ambiguity in any degree and (if you are interested) it irritates the hell out of us when we see ambiguity in other walks of life. If the plumber say he will be on site at 18:00, at 18:00, we expect to see a plumber.....

The importance, here, is that in any travel booking process, it is always best to have a human intervention in the process, preferably to go through the salient bits, before the final confirmation is made. An agent knows what bits are really relevant and is best at highlighting those really relevant bits; booked a cheap flight? You are going away for two weeks.... Do you seriously think you can manage without a hold bag? Did you really want to leave on Monday at 6.00 pm? I thought you had a morning meeting.... This event is pretty off-and-on, if you pay another £50 on the £500 fare, you can change for free... And so on.

Airline complaints in category (3) are already common - not realising that a ticket cannot be changed or that those cheap fares for the family mean that you are in row 4, Mum is in row 18 and Johnny and Sarah are in rows 23 and 32 respectively. Even though a website may (and not all do, frankly) have told that you if you do not pay for seats, you may not be able to sit together, the RI bandwith was not wide enough at the critical moment and AI (possibly) took over.

The cost of sorting out these kind of issues, when they are only first realised at check-in, far outweighs the cost of using a travel agent in the first place. And, of course, if it is your travel agent who has made the mistake, then that cost will not be coming out of your pocket.

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