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Business Travel Featured

How to Handle Flight Schedule Changes

As the COVID-19 pandemic stretches into its eighteenth month, one persnickety pain point for business travelers is the increased number of schedule changes airlines are now making.

It’s understandable—airlines remain in a constant state of revision as they try to anticipate traveler demand while working with reduced flight crews. Their guessing game is further exacerbated by the shifting effects of the virus’s variant, vaccine rollout, and ever-fluctuating restrictions from governments around the world. While the situation will most surely stabilize eventually, the increase in schedule changes is likely to continue through the coming months.

In order to protect business travelers’ rights and help them prepare for this possibility, here’s what corporate travel managers need to know and do:

Two Types of Flight Schedule Changes

There are two types of schedule changes: minor and major.

Minor schedule changes occur when an airline adjusts flight times by less than 30 minutes from the original time. Tickets, in these instances of minor change, simply need to be revalidated (as opposed to being reissued). Christopherson automatically does this for our customers and resends the updated itinerary. Travelers likely won’t need assistance from their corporate travel agent, but they are welcome to reach out if they have questions or do need assistance.

Major schedule changes occur when an airline adjusts flight times by more than 30 minutes from the original time, or when a minor schedule change causes a missed connection. In these cases, airlines require the ticket to be fully reissued. If the traveler does not get their ticket reissued, the airline can potentially deny boarding.

When a major schedule change affects an itinerary booked through any Christopherson booking method, our corporate travel agents and online support agents receive those changes from the airline. Those agents then provide travelers with the revised itinerary for confirmation and assistance in reissuing the ticket per each airlines’ guidelines. If an airline’s proposed new schedule doesn’t work, our agents can assist travelers in finding a flight that does meet their needs while still upholding your organization’s travel policies. When Christopherson assists with reissuing tickets for major schedule changes, those tickets remain integrated with our risk management technology so you can maintain your duty of care standards in spite of the schedule change and ticket reissue.

When a major schedule change occurs on the same day of travel—likely due to the airline’s crew availability or a change in aircraft—travelers can immediately reach out to their corporate travel agent for help. Travelers who monitor their flights in the days leading up to their trip and who check in 24 hours in advance are better equipped to be aware of those same-day changes. They are also able to lean on the expertise of Christopherson’s agents to remedy what can feel like a stressful situation.

What should a traveler do if their flight schedule is changed?

If a traveler experiences a flight schedule change, they can do one of three things:

  1. Nothing. If the new flight times work, they can accept the change and Christopherson will either revalidate or reissue the ticket, depending on the type of change it is.
  2. Find a different flight route. If the new schedule provided by the airline doesn’t work, travelers can work with Christopherson’s corporate travel agents to find a flight, route, and schedule that does meet their needs.
  3. Get a refund and start the booking over. For major changes where the flight time has been adjusted by more than 90 minutes from the original time, travelers are entitled to a full refund. Christopherson can help navigate the eligibility and process for getting a refund in these instances.

 

In addition to these three courses of action, travelers should also do the following:

Be Aware and Prepare
Travelers should periodically monitor their flights via their airline’s website or app, and more regularly in the days leading up to travel. The earlier you are aware of a flight change, the easier it is to handle. We also encourage travelers to check in 24-hours before their flight so they have a bit of lead time in case there are same-day or last minute changes that dramatically affect the trip. Travelers can also reconfirm (or revise, if needed) travel plans with their corporate travel agent. If travelers are given a minor or major schedule change, they need to be sure the ticket has been revalidated or reissued respectively.

Complete the Travel Profile
It is imperative that business travelers include their cell phone number in their travel profile. Having a cell phone number listed gives the airline and Christopherson the ability to communicate with you in the event that a schedule change occurs en route.

Rely on the Expertise of Corporate Travel Agents
Whether a schedule change occurs prior to a trip or en route, travelers can reach out to their corporate travel agent to ensure the changes don’t cause missed connections or affect their hotel and rental car reservations. If the airline’s newly-proposed flight times don’t work for the traveler, corporate travel agents will be able to provide the consultative expertise to work with the airline to fix the flight. They can also help you get a refund from the airline depending on eligibility.

How Much Do Schedule Changes Cost?

Airlines do not charge or refund any difference in fares for schedule changes. Because airlines require tickets to be reissued for major schedule changes, which are out of the control of travel management companies, service fees may apply to reissue those tickets.

If a major schedule change is greater than 90 minutes, travelers are entitled to a full refund. Christopherson can assist travelers with that refund process. Upon refund, travelers can then rebook with an airline that offers better flight times.

In rare instances, when neither a refund nor the new schedule are an option, an organization may decide to deposit the value of the first ticket into their unused ticket bank to use against future travel and then purchase a new ticket on an airline with a more amenable schedule.

What Can Corporate Travel Managers Do to Avoid Potential Schedule Changes?

Keep in mind that when you book farther in advance, there is a greater potential for your flight to be affected by a schedule change, possibly more than once. Until the airlines’ current schedule change situation resolves, organizations that book 60+ days in advance might consider temporarily booking closer to their travel dates. Of course, this option needs to be weighed against the possibility of reduced routes and limited seat capacity.

Corporate travel managers can consult with their travel management company to determine their best course of action understand the pros and cons of the options available.

The Bottom Line

The good news is that the current flight change situation will settle as the pandemic approaches its end and airlines are able to increase hiring and plan more stable schedules. Fortunately, organizations and their business travelers do have options in the meantime. And despite the challenges, Christopherson’s relationships with the airlines ensures that we have the information and resources you need to successfully navigate these schedule changes.

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Business Travel Featured

Client Success Story: Implementing New Travelers & Online Booking Adoption

Christopherson values each of our client partnerships. We appreciate the opportunity we have to consult and assist corporate travel managers as they hit goals, achieve objectives, and support their business travelers. We are pleased to share these stories in our new blog series of Client Success Stories. 

. . .

Medical Solutions, a Christopherson client since 2013, is a nationally-recognized medical staffing company. Their tremendous growth has led to both unique opportunities and challenges. After an acquisition, they needed to quickly implement travel for their newly-acquired employees and transition from using full-service corporate travel agents to an online booking tool.

CHALLENGES

  • Acquisition of another company necessitated implementation of a new group of travelers.
  • Medical Solutions made the choice to move from an on-site travel advisor to using an online booking tool (OBT) as their primary travel booking method.

 

SOLUTIONS AND RESULTS

Changes required implementation for the acquired travelers, as well as implementation and training for everyone using the OBT. The online adoption has been exceptional, reaching 91% online adoption within the first year.

Christopherson also conducted an expedited implementation in order to have the client’s former TMC release the existing Concur site to us for the additional travelers. The acquired company was up and running in only two weeks.

During this time, we also evaluated each aspect of the travel program and configuration, including structure, reportable fields, vendors, reporting, payment methods, etc. to optimize the travel program.

CLIENT FEEDBACK

“Our account manager has made it abundantly clear how much she values me, my team, and my company; she always makes me feel like I’m a top priority whenever I need her. She took over our account at a delicate time with our integrations really being underway and our investors pushing for a potential change in our travel management company based solely on cost savings. She took my brutal honesty and direct questions and has worked endlessly to show why Christopherson is so amazing and what value they bring to us.” –Stacie P., Medical Solutions

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Featured

Executive Q&A: Christopherson’s CSO Talks Strategy

Next up in our Executive Q&A series is an interview with Christopherson’s Chief Strategy Officer, Josh Cameron. Josh shared insight on how Christopherson’s strategy has changed over the years and how the company is preparing for the future. 

Q: Can you perhaps set the stage for us and share how Christopherson’s strategy has changed or evolved in recent years? 

A: Christopherson has been in business since 1953. To stay in business successfully for nearly seventy years you’ve got to do more than a few things right and it requires a continuous commitment to development, growth, and evolution. Different eras of our business required different focus, but in recent years, I’d say our strategy is focused on creating equilibrium between the human side of service and the digital side of technology solutions.

Christopherson has always had a stellar reputation for customer service. We’ve also been known for our commitment to innovating and developing corporate travel technologies that solve problems. As we move forward, we’re looking for smarter ways to combine those two aspects of our solution in a more complimentary way. That will require what I’m calling the “productization of Christopherson”—in other words, finding ways to transform and enhance our customer-centric approach to service with or through technology, while also enriching our technology to allow for even better service.

Q: What was the catalyst or “the why” behind this new approach?

A: Businesses need to be able to solve customers’ problems more rapidly and how you do that matters. Everything we’re working on now and planning for the future is because we want to provide instantaneous resolution and instantaneous information so customers can make the best decisions for their business or perform the necessary task in that moment.

Q: How does that then affect what Christopherson’s working on now? 

A: Right now we’re spending significant time and resources evaluating our core technologies, layering or redeveloping where necessary, and making sure we’ve effectively centralized the digital and human interactions between our travel agents, our clients’ travel managers, and the business travelers themselves. That’s the foundation.

We’re also making a shift in how we meet the needs of all those customers. In the past, we’ve been hyper-focused on corporate travel managers, helping them do their jobs faster, easier, and better. But as we move into this new phase of strategy, we’re also building for the business travelers and corporate travel agents as well.

We also have a renewed focus on customer-centric product development through design thinking. Every tool is measured against our strict standard of being useful, elegant, and intuitive. Every service interaction is measured against our consultative standard. Ensuring this strong core will allow us to amplify our customer-centric approach in a way that we’ve never seen as a business.

Q: Can you tell us more about the equilibrium Christopherson is working to achieve between those human and digital interactions?

A: The beautiful thing about technology is that it can solve users’ problems in the most efficient manner. What’s exciting, to me, is that as we streamline our ability to meet the needs of countless customers through technology, we free up resources, which we can then invest back into solving new problems and different needs.

That said, we’re not looking to replace people with technology. The first of our two core values is that we value people, and humans have an innate, intuitive ability to navigate both nuance and complexity that can’t be replicated digitally. The question for us is how we can make those customer interactions as efficient and personalized as possible. Because when we can do that—deliver instantaneous resolution and instantaneous information in a consultative, personalized way—it allows us to ultimately do more with less.

Q: How do you see this refocused strategy positioning Christopherson for the future?

A: When we look back on our company’s history, the years we experienced our highest growth were the years when our innovation was at its peak. As we move into this next phase of innovation with a clear vision of our renewed strategy, we feel confident it will spur an acceleration of growth, widen the differentiation between us and our competitors, and strengthen the value we create for our customers.

Q: Thank you for your time today, Josh. One last question, just for fun, what’s the best business trip you’ve ever taken?

A: Well off the top of my head, I don’t know if I’ve ever been on a trip that wasn’t a business trip because I’m always traveling with Mike. But I did really enjoy the BCD Travel meetings in Cancun a few years ago, as well as their event at the Ritz-Carlton in Tahoe. I brought my wife along with me on that one and it was fun to be together. Although I’m realizing it may have been memorable because it was our last trip alone before we had kids.

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Executive Q and A Featured

Executive Q&A: Christopherson’s CFO Shares Details on How the Company Financially Navigated the Pandemic

Next up in our Executive Q&A series is an interview with Christopherson’s Chief Financial Officer, Heather Young. Heather shared insight on how Christopherson financially navigated the COVID-19 pandemic and where the company stands now as travel restarts. 

Q: It’s no secret that the last year and a half has been brutal on the travel industry. From your perspective as CFO, how did Christopherson’s financial philosophies protect the company through the pandemic?

A: Our owners, Mike and Camille Cameron, have taken a conservative approach to running and growing our company over the past 31 years. Additionally, at the beginning of March 2020, they had just paid off our corporate office building. This meant that as the COVID-19 pandemic began, Christopherson was in a great financial situation with good liquidity and very little debt.

As a company, we also rely on data to drive decisions. Because we review our ticketing information everyday through our data visualization dashboards, we could see travel bookings begin to decline in the weeks that led up to the pandemic being declared. By seeing that change early, our executive team was able to come together quickly and make a solid plan to weather this storm. We have been able to make important decisions throughout the pandemic, faster than many, because we track that key data in real-time.

Q: So as we see the pandemic coming to a close, where does Christopherson now stand in terms of financial stability?

A: We are in extremely good financial shape. We began the pandemic with sharp focus on protecting our cash, our people, our clients, and our clients’ customer experience. By the end of 2020, we were able to shift our focus back to investing in our future, particularly through a human and digital transformation. 

Even though sales are still below pre-pandemic levels, we are currently tracking higher than the rest of the industry. We are strategically investing in areas that will allow us to continue being a leader in travel. We are able to make these investments because of our conservative fiscal approaches. We have also utilized the government’s COVID relief programs to aid our stability. Our cash reserves remain strong and we have the financial ability to make these investments for our future.

Q: You mentioned you do a daily review of travel bookings. What are you seeing in terms of business picking up? Is business travel on the upswing? 

A: We are definitely seeing business pick up. We said all along that leisure travel would lead the way, followed by business travel. This is exactly what we are seeing. Our leisure travel division’s bookings began increasing in early 2021. That is now being followed with more business travel bookings as well as meetings and groups. We also implemented numerous new clients throughout the pandemic and have been excited to see these new customers begin traveling this summer.

Q: Part of Christopherson’s plan to weather the storm was protecting its people. How has Christopherson been able to support its team members over the last 18 months?

A: We kept a sharp focus on our two company values—1) We create value. 2) We value people.—in all our decisions over the last 18 months. At the beginning of the pandemic, we all experienced the difficulty of making the sacrifices needed to preserve our financial stability and allow us to keep as many people employed as possible. We are happy to report that we were able to reinstate our 401(k) match and restore any pay reductions even before we returned to profitability. We’ve retained much of our staff and have also been able to hire back many of our previous employees as business continues to ramp up this year.   

Protecting our teams’ mental health was also important to us during the pandemic, so we made sure our employees had access to programs that provided unlimited access to professional help with stress, depression, financial concerns, family difficulties, and more. We also enhanced our employee benefit package by adding paid short-term disability in 2021, paid bereavement leave, and COVID-related paid leave. We continue to evaluate our benefit offerings for competitiveness in the market and ensure our decisions demonstrate that we value people.

Q: So having gone through the last 18 months, how would you say Christopherson is doing now?

A: COVID gave us an opportunity to make difficult decisions and we have emerged stronger. We spent that first month looking through all our expenses with a fine tooth comb, cancelling or negotiating better terms on anything we could. We learned who our real business partners were—those who were willing to work with us as we navigated through this very unique time. And while business was certainly slower, we used that time to strategize how to increase the value we bring to our clients and the industry.

We are being even more deliberate with where our money is being invested. We are hyper-focused on the design and delivery of our service model and are expanding our product development team. We have an ambitious roadmap of enhancements planned that combine the human and digital experience in a transformative way and will allow us to lead the future of business travel.

Q: Just for fun, do you prefer …

  • Window or aisle? Aisle—I hate feeling trapped and I try to stay hydrated while traveling 😉
  • Beach, mountain, or city travel? I’m a beach person at heart.
  • Salty or sweet travel snack? Sweets.
  • Where are you looking forward to traveling next? My husband and I had an anniversary trip to Portugal booked for the fall of 2020 that was cancelled due to COVID. We are looking forward to rescheduling that soon.