Your holiday wish list is a distant memory by now, which is just as well, because you’re probably not getting what you wanted from the travel industry in 2016.
No, really. The only thing this business can be relied on to deliver, year after year, is a more efficient way of taking money from you when you hit the road.
But there’s hope. Once you dispense with the fantasies of “free” travel and the return of what-you-see-is-what-you-get prices, there are things you might realistically expect to get this year. Some of more intrinsic value, some less.
Free the Wi-Fi
Wi-Fi connection fees are the most hated charges among travelers, according to a recent survey by MileCards.com.
“The notion that airline passengers have to pay for it is appalling,” says Megan Stetzel, a frequent traveler who writes a food blog. “For international travelers, Wi-Fi is their only way to connect with home to assure loved ones of safe arrivals or to look up hotels or transportation in the surrounding area.”
OK, maybe 2016 won’t be the year of free Wi-Fi, but more hotels are coming to terms with the fact that wireless Internet is a basic utility, like water or electricity. Charging guests extra for it is sure to trigger ill will.
Bring back the trains
“If I could change anything about travel in 2016, it would be to start rapidly increasing the number of high-speed rail lines between major cities in the USA so we could scale back our dependence on indifferent airlines and overtaxed air traffic control systems,” says Tim Leffel, an industry-watcher and blogger.
Indeed, travelers hate having to pay a slew of extra fees to get into a cramped airplane that’s more uncomfortable than your average bus. But there’s hope on the horizon. High-speed rail projects in California and Florida could accelerate our path to independence from the airline oligopoly.
Roll out the welcome mat
Remember when they called it the “hospitality” industry? Ann Fastiggi, head of the hospitality practice at RSR Partners, an executive search firm, does. So do I. Large airports have lost sight of that almost completely, she says.
“How unwelcoming has JFK been recently?” she asks. “Yes, the terminals are improving, but once you leave the building — wow!”
Don’t look now, but New York’s other airport, LaGuardia, is about to undergo a $4 billion transformation, which will make it far more hospitable, and that includes much-improved mass transit options.
Fix the TSA
“Please, oh, please,” frequent flier Laura Sinton says. “Change the TSA process. It’s the most unpleasant part of air travel. It’s ineffective, cumbersome and doesn’t make anyone feel safer.”
Congress has repeatedly called for overhauling the agency assigned to protect America’s transportation systems, so this is in the realm of possibility. Maybe a good step would be a little politeness.
“The agents should stop yelling at you like gym teachers as soon as you enter the screening area,” says Sarah Sloboda, a photographer who travels often. Or how about removing all of those full-body scanners? They’ve generated health and privacy concerns and are nearing the end of their projected life expectancy, anyway.
TSA can now require full-body scans, trumping pat-down option
End the class division
Jennifer McNeil, a frequent traveler who works for a British marketing agency, says she’s finished feeling like a “second-class citizen” whenever she flies. “I know you get what you pay for,” she says. “But it’s really cruel for 90 percent of the flying public. Can’t they throw us some sort of bone, like a pillow and blanket?”
Change is slow, but it is happening. There’s a growing sense that the class divide on planes is too wide. The loyalty programs that created an entire generation of entitled air travelers are just beginning to be reformed. Things will get better. They can’t get any worse.
Coach class continues downward spiral
The reality of travel in 2016 is this: There’s a lot to be optimistic about. Travel companies are tuning in to their customers — not just the super-elites — and giving them what they want. Fast, reliable Internet connections, security with dignity, customer-friendly airports and, yes, even a better air travel experience. It may not happen tomorrow, but soon. You have to believe.
Don’t do this in 2016
Here are three mistakes you shouldn’t make this year.
• Don’t stress out. Take a deep breath when you leave your house. “Negative attitudes won’t make the plane leave on time, the traffic on the freeway start moving, or the train fix its technical issues,” says Monica Eaton-Cardone, the chief operating officer of a credit card management company and a frequent flier. “It would be wonderful if people could just relax while traveling.”
• Don’t be a scaredy-cat. David Capaldi, who runs a luxury travel company, was chagrined when his clients instinctively canceled their trips after the Paris terrorist attacks. “Every time something bad happens in another Western country, the American public seems to quickly jump to the conclusion that traveling anywhere outside the U.S. is dangerous,” he says. “It isn’t.”
• Don’t be inconsiderate. Politeness is often in short supply on the road. Sharon Kenny, a guidebook author and frequent traveler from Naples, Fla., wishes it weren’t, particularly when it comes to infectious diseases. “I would love to see it become acceptable for people to wear those disposable face masks if they are sick with a cold or the flu and still insist on flying and coughing,” she says. That’s already considered acceptable in Japan, so why not in the USA?