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Friday,  April 19, 2024 11:00 AM 

Op-ed: Lynx failure isn’t just about the value of travel agents, but good travel agents

  • Opinions
  •   03-01-2024  3:42 pm
  •   Jeff Verman, CEO of Plus Travel Group

Op-ed: Lynx failure isn’t just about the value of travel agents, but good travel agents
Jeff Verman, CEO of Plus Travel Group, with his cat, Chloe. (Supplied)
Jeff Verman, CEO of Plus Travel Group

The failure of Lynx Air is another sad chapter in a very long history of failed start-up airlines in Canada. It’s upsetting to the travellers who saw that their travel plans were upended. It’s upsetting to the good employees who have lost their jobs at the airline. And it’s sad to see any step backward in this competitive space. 

Having said that, given this long history of failed start-ups – many of which were low-cost carriers – it is somewhat unsurprising. There is risk in buying a ticket on a low-cost start-up airline. It’s a level of risk that doesn’t exist when buying a ticket on an established airline.

That low-cost carriers have difficulty in Canada is not very surprising. We are an enormously large country geographically, with a relatively small population. It takes a lot of fuel to get anywhere! I honestly don’t think the low-cost carrier model is a particularly good one for Canada. Just my opinion.

Regardless, for travel agencies and travel agents, at the heart of the matter is how we should manage this risk that start-up airlines present. On the one hand, we want to see Lynx Air succeed. On the other hand, we have obligations to our clients to tell them about any risks we are aware of. 

Complicating this further, some of us work in a province where travel is regulated – in Ontario, for instance, with TICO, which has a mandate (in some sense) for consumer protection.

From a travel agency/travel agent perspective, there are a lot of reasons to be wary of selling a start-up airline. If your traveller misses his or her flight, it is unlikely there is another flight you can offer on that start-up airline in a couple of hours. If there is a mechanical issue, it’s unlikely the airline has a spare plane to replace the one in need of a repair.  (And getting those repairs done may just take longer!) 

So, does your traveller simply have to get to his/her destination that day? Can they risk the possibility of a flight cancellation? Were they made aware of these risks? Again, if time is crucial to the traveller, there can be added risk from booking a start-up airline.

I’m not arguing that travel agencies/agents shouldn’t book start-up airlines. I am suggesting that the traveller should be made fully aware of the additional risks involved when booking that start-up airline. I think this is actually an obligation for travel agencies/agents in every province, regulated or not. We owe this to our clients!

Does the Lynx Air failure show that “you should use a travel agent”?  The answer is, not really. It shows, at best, that you should use a good travel agent (or perhaps a good travel agency). 

We can say with hindsight that those agents who took a cautious approach to putting passengers on Lynx are, indeed, looking relatively good here in this instance.

Some, I see, have suggested the credit card companies should be paying travellers for their lost flights. I’m not really understanding this one.  What did the credit card companies do wrong that they should be responsible for Lynx Air’s failure?  Why should the burden be on them?

In Ontario, TICO may be funding people who lost their money on cancelled Lynx Air flights.  I do not agree with this at all. Lynx paid nothing into TICO’s Compensation Fund – travel agencies did.  Why should the financial burden be on us?  It’s totally unfair and unjust.

I also understand that TICO is looking to move forward and not fund passengers due to airline or cruise line failures in the future.  Whether they fund them or not, the one thing I know is that the source of the funds shouldn’t be from travel agencies. It’s just wrong.

In general, regulating travel agencies does not do very much in achieving consumer protection. There are fine travel agents and travel agencies in non-regulated provinces too, doing just as good a job. Travel agencies and travel agents in Canada do more to protect consumers every week of the year than any regulatory body could ever compete with in a decade. TICO’s financial burden on Ontario travel agencies simply needs to completely stop.

Putting this full circle, travel agencies/agents want airline competition. Bad things happen to us when there isn’t airline competition. I’ve been around long enough to have experienced this. But our obligation is, and always will be, to our clients.  We are obliged to let them know the details and risks of what they are booking.

And lastly, should your client knowingly want to take the risks of booking with a start-up airline (because you’ve advised them), the burden for the impact in case of cancellation or failure should be on them and them alone. They knowingly accepted the risks. 

And, as such, they should live with the consequences, however unwanted. 

In accepting the lower fare and the possible risks, they are accepting the burden of those possible negative consequences.

Jeff Verman is CEO of Plus Travel Group.


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