Improving travel, one good idea at a time

The aftermath of the Emirates Airlines Flight 521 crash in Dubai on Aug. 3 was one of this summer’s most shocking visuals.

Although all 282 passengers and 18 crew evacuated safely, it didn’t go down without a hitch. Video clips surfaced online showing passengers pulling their baggage out of the overhead bins in a panic as they deplaned — a dangerous and reckless act that could have cost lives.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Allianz Travel Insurance. The Allianz Travel Insurance company has built its reputation on partnering with agents all around the world to provide comprehensive travel insurance for their clients. Contact Allianz Travel Insurance for a comprehensive list of coverage.

And that got Don Chernoff thinking: Could an act of corporate generosity prevent that kind of risky behavior in the future? Chernoff is one of a handful of thought leaders who are trying to improve travel. Actions like theirs raise an even bigger question: What are you doing to make things better?

Chernoff, who runs a luggage manufacturer called SkyRoll, emailed me with an idea after the plane crash.

“No passenger should risk their life or the lives of others by delaying an evacuation just to grab their luggage from the overhead bin,” he told me. “To encourage people to leave their carry-on in the overhead bin and get out quickly in the event of a crash, we’ll give free SkyRoll luggage to survivors whose carry-on luggage subsequently burns up if there is a fire.”

How might that change passengers’ behavior, if they knew their destroyed luggage would be replaced immediately? Would fewer passengers linger, blocking the path to the exits? There’s no way to know, but it’s a worthy idea.

Some of the recent efforts to upgrade travel have a more commercial flavor. A few months ago, Destination DC, which promotes travel to Washington, raised a pop-up tent at New York’s Penn Station to promote easy travel connections to the nation’s capital, particularly on Amtrak. They poured free coffee and hot chocolate for frazzled commuters.

Destination DC has a well-deserved reputation for hospitality. A few years ago, while visiting a friend in Washington, I met a Destination DC representative who was promoting the Cherry Blossom Festival. When I told her I was visiting from Florida, she handed me an entire cherry pie so I could “feel right at home.” And I did.

That was also the idea behind the campaign called “DC Cool”: to remind them that hospitality is still a thing in the travel industry, and that you could come to Washington to experience it. Washington isn’t just the seat of American power, says Elliott Ferguson, president and CEO of Destination DC. It’s also the very model of “warm and friendly,” he says.

Greeting travelers with treats like pie and coffee “speak to our brand of hospitality,” Ferguson says.

The heavy lifting in this discipline is being done by what many refer to as thought leaders — the advocates, analysts and trend-watchers who ponder a better future for all of us. It’s sometimes hard to tell a real thought leader from a fake. But here’s one way: Real thought leaders never refer to themselves as thought leaders. They let other people call them that.

I received a recent invitation to an industry conference that promised I’d mingle with a crowd of “thought leaders.” I didn’t recognize any of them, nor would you. Perhaps the kind of leadership they offered only helped companies maximize their profits. A legitimate goal, but certainly not something that would lead to a better future for the rest of us.

Just as the CEO of a luggage company thinks about saving lives in a plane crash or a visitor’s bureau representative worries about the lost art of hospitality, others are thinking about ways to improve air travel. Take Paul Hudson, president of FlyersRights.org, who recently released a congressional report card for airlines. The study measured congressional efforts in protecting airline passenger rights over the past eight years. (You can read the full report at flyersrights.org/reportcard.)

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.) ranked highest while Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) scored the lowest.

The average grade: D.

“It is important for the public and voters to be aware of and hold members of Congress accountable for their slow responses and downright refusal to address the frustrations of airline passengers,” Hudson says.

In an election year, it’s also important that voters know what has to be done to make things better. Hudson’s research reveals the extent to which Congress upholds airline industry priorities. If you disagree with those priorities, your best chance for change is to vote those members out of office.

You’ll have a chance to do that in a few days.

How you can make travel better

• Give your business to companies that care. Companies like Marriott and Southwest Airlines have a strong sense of corporate responsibility built right into their mission statements. It comes through not only in the products they offer and their customer care, but also the way they invest in future infrastructure.

• Let your airline, cruise line, hotel and car rental company know. They’re not mind readers, you know! If someone’s hospitality is lacking, fill out the response form or talk to a manager. If a policy is customer-hostile, tell the company before taking your business elsewhere. Companies can’t make travel better unless they know what better is.

• Exercise your right to vote. Perhaps Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said it best at the Republican National Convention (this is an endorsement of sentiment, not politics): Don’t stay home in November. And vote your conscience. Vote for candidates up and down the ticket whom you trust to defend our freedom and to be faithful to the Constitution.

28 thoughts on “Improving travel, one good idea at a time

  1. In practice, airlines roll out the proverbial red carpet to passengers after a crash or fire. As long as you don’t claim you loaded a $5k suitcase with gold bricks, you get swift reimbursement for whatever it is you say you had.

    I’ve never heard of an airline paying any attention whatsoever to the normal liability limits; they are, of course, not doing this selflessly… they are trying to head off lawsuits.

      1. Absolutely. After a crash, an airline is desperate to convince you that the airline did everything correctly and you have no need to file a lawsuit.

        1. 2.5k is a drop in the bucket compared to the millions at stake. The airline would love to reimburse that amount, get a release signed and be done.

    1. I’m not so sure how accurate that is.

      First, it depends on the passenger’s nationality and the country where the incident occurs. See: http://www.csmonitor.com/Business/2013/0716/Asiana-Airlines-Some-passengers-face-long-odds-for-compensation

      Second, if the airline is not found negligent, then generally there is no liability and no obligation to pay any claims including baggage beyond the statutory minimums for all flights.

      According to news reports, the US 1549 passengers were generally treated well (even though the airline probably had a good case that there was no negligence), but there were also reports of passengers complaining about missing cash, valuables, car keys, and unpaid medical bills even 6 months later, after all property was allegedly returned to passengers.
      http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/12/business/12aig.html

      1. When I said “I’ve never heard of an airline paying any attention whatsoever to the normal liability limits” I was referring to the (relatively puny) luggage liability limits (since that’s what the article is about); not overall liability for accidents as a whole.

        Your first link discussed theoretical absolute liability limits and potential eventual final settlements; it did not even discuss, in any way, how actual claims for lost possessions were being processed.

        The second one also didn’t report any major difficulty with reasonable quantities of possessions. In the priciest case in that article, US cut an immediate check for $5k to everybody, the insurer another check for $5k with some documentation, and another $10k quickly available if you sign a release. Even that initial $5k which everybody got is well in excess of normal baggage liability limits.

        It’s hardly surprising that some possessions were lost or irreparably damaged in the river; I don’t know how that’s a statement on anything.

        1. I’m not sure if the families that were refused compensation for additional therapy, or the passenger who was unhappy he had to sign a liability release to be made whole for all his claimed losses would agree about getting ‘red carpet’ treatment.

  2. Yes, nothing in my bag is more important than my life. I can retrieve it later, if it still exists, or I can replace everything in it.

    And if you are between me and the exit, and you stop to get your carry-on, you should expect to get trampled.

    1. Yeah, but there are things in my bag that are worth more than other peoples lives. If Hitler were behind me on a plane that went down I’d definitely get my carry on.

      1. Perhaps; if you could get back up to get it after twenty or thirty passengers behind you trampled you for holding them up from getting out in a true emergency.

  3. One of the (few) reasons why I could see a passenger grabbing their carry-on: Prescriptions. Some prescriptions have very rigid time regimines, so even if you’ll get replacement costs covered by insurance or an airline — you don’t want to miss doses.

    1. Assuming you won’t die in the next hour or so, you could get any meds needed soon just by asking. Any crash is surrounded by just about every ambulance and fire truck in the area; I’m sure something could be worked out to get you doses from the hospital pharmacy.

    2. The major drugstores sell small pill zip lock type bags. Put some meds in there. Carry that stuff on your person, or have it in a very small purse sized shoulder bag. Carry your passport, money and ID on on you when on a plane. Encrypt your data on your laptop and back it up to the cloud. That way you don’t lose the data and it doesn’t get stolen. Same goes for phones, except put your phone in your pocket when on a plane. Travel smart. Think about what the possible events are and what you can do to mitigate risks.

      You know, on Friday, a friend wanted to put his bags in my hotel room as he had checked out early and there was one day left in a conference we were at. I gave him a key to my room, because I told him that if something happens to me, they would not let him in that room to get his things.

      Travel is all about planning and being safe. And not creating a hazard for others.

      That said, if someone has a purse or small purse like bag slung over their shoulder during an evacuation and it is not an impediment, I would hope no one would cause a fuss about that.

  4. Technology should exist where when the oxygen masks drop, the overhead bins lock. That way there will be no temptation to grab.

    1. I had a friend also suggest that they lock when landing so people can’t stand up in the aisle to get their bags while the plane is taxiing.

    2. I could totally see oblivious passengers not getting that particular memo and spending time yanking at the bin latches while they clog the aisle.

  5. “Let your airline, cruise line, hotel and car rental company know.” But you only suggest letting them know when they get it wrong. I often write and let a travel company know when they get it right. I fly Delta most often and seldom complain, but I do write a letter each time an employee goes above and beyond in terms of service. Companies and their employees learn valuable lessons when they are called out for what they do wrong. But they can learn equally valuable lessons from sharing what employees got right as well.

    1. I often let companies know when they have an employee who has gone above and beyond for me. Even ones who have simply been kind in a bad situation. I don’t fill out routine surveys because I function under the belief that terrible or great service will get an email or a phone call. The everyday tasks that are part of the job description? No, because that is what is expected of them. If they can’t do that without a pat on the back they are in the wrong job.

  6. It is a nice offer. Whether or not he got “free pr” is a moot point. How else would they have gotten the information to you , exactly? And yes, companies do market.

  7. I watched some of the news coverage this weekend in Chicago after the engine caught fire on a plane just before take off. I was shocked by two details: watching passengers a wheeling luggage across the tarmac and the video itself from Inside the plane. Not too long ago there was a plane (I think Southwest but
    I’m not positive) that had an emergency at high altitude forcing the pilot to drop down to lower altitudes quickly as well as deploy the oxygen masks. A mom on that flight took that as an opportunity to take pictures of her her young children who looked terrified. I don’t know what’s wrong with these people. While I might send a quick text to my family telling them how much I loved them (if it was even safe to do), all of my energy would be directed at instructions from the crew and taking whatever steps I could to protect my life and the lives of those around me.

  8. Since I am usually cold on planes I’ve taken to wearing a fleece or thin down vest during the flight. Into the zippered pockets go my card wallet, passport, keys, and perhaps my phone charger, earbuds and lipbalm. If in the extremely unlikely event that evacuating the plane is necessary I am ready to go – and echoing what a few people have said, I am going to push past or climb over someone trying to grab their carry-on bags.

  9. It’s not the bag people care about in most cases it’s what they packed in the bag. I care very little about my carry one itself, I care about my laptop and the data thats on it.

    If a strange woman offered me a whole cherry pie, I wouldn’t eat it, it’s just creepy, that’s how you end up drugged and chained up in some demented persons root cellar.

  10. A couple of comments:
    The free SkyRoll luggage–it’s not the carry-on itself that’s of value…it’s what’s in it (prescription drugs, jewelry, electronics, travel documents, etc.). Although I agree that nothing is worth endangering your life for (or that of fellow passengers).
    And we’ve seen too many lofty mission statements that aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on. Actions speak far louder than words.

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