Charlie Funk
Charlie Funk

I have always had a fascination with aviation. A photograph of me at about age 2 shows me pointing at an airplane flying overhead. My first airplane ride came at age 6, and it was magical.

My career involved flying often enough that I came to know crews on a number of routes originating in Nashville. It was a time when Piedmont Airlines had a one-hour flight from Nashville to Charlotte and served a full meal. Seats were comfortable.

I flew enough with Delta Airlines to become a Flying Colonel. I still display the plaque. Eastern Airlines recognized my patronage with frequent upgrades to first class.

But those complimentary upgrades came with a condition. To be considered, proper business attire was required. Gentlemen had to wear a jacket and tie; ladies had to wear a dress or blouse and skirt or slacks.

But things change, sometimes not for the better.

Air travel became more of a winged-bus experience, with a race to the bottom to see which airline would have the lowest fare. Just as we have seen in the cruise industry, those lower fares came at the expense of niceties we had come to expect.

Airline bankruptcies, mergers, acquisitions and consolidations plus struggles to remain profitable created an environment of stress, ambivalence and frustration on the part of airline employees and passengers.

Behavior that never would have been considered even a possibility now seems commonplace. Service disruptions that seemed to occur only rarely in the good ol' days are now routine. Sometimes it is an experience of impending dread and an attitude of "I just want to get this over with." And that's for passengers as well as airline employees.

More and more frequently, travel professionals find themselves held responsible for things involving air travel that they neither caused nor can control.

It is challenging to have a client return home and tell us how great everything about their vacation was except getting to the origination point or returning home. Preferred seat assignments lost when schedules changed, missed connections, excessive flight delays, lost luggage and more occur with increasing frequency.

We advisors find ourselves often spending far more time on air transportation than on the remainder of the travel package. Something as simple as finding acceptable seats on supplier-booked air has become an ordeal taking far too many hours to resolve.

We have become the quintessential duck appearing to swim calmly on the pond while paddling furiously below the surface. Too often, those efforts are met with clients' frustration with the agent -- sometimes the outright loss of a client -- because of uncontrollable events or circumstances.

It's like this: I sometimes feel that if I never had to be involved with client air travel again, it would be too soon. Then reality sneaks back under the door, and I realize that the reason our clients call us in the first place is because there may be disruptions in their plans. They need a professional to be their advocate when the unforeseen becomes reality. It took time to stop taking upsets personally and to realize that I'll never satisfy 100% of clients. But air travel arrangements are still really "special."


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