These are the lies we tell about travel
Lufthansa's AirTag "ban" is a reminder that truth is in short supply
The travel industry lies to us — and we lie right back.
Consider Lufthansa's recent AirTag "ban." The travel blogosphere erupted in outrage when the airline hinted that electronic tracking devices might be dangerous and should be turned off before a flight.
Aha, they said — the airline doesn't want us to track our bags! Lufthansa is trying to hide its incompetence.
Just one problem: Lufthansa never officially banned AirTags and quickly clarified that the trackers were OK. But no one was listening by then. The travel bloggers weren't about to let the facts get in the way of a good story, and they falsely suggested they had shamed Lufthansa into reversing course.
Does Lufthansa deserve the bad publicity? I'll tell you in a minute. But too many travelers missed the bigger issue amid the bickering. Everyone in the travel industry tells lies. Maybe that's the real problem.
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Did Lufthansa deserve the AirTag criticism?
Lufthansa has one of the worst reputations for customer service among European airlines. This summer has been a disaster. I'm still sitting on hundreds of unresolved Lufthansa cases involving lost luggage, slow refunds, and simple flight booking errors.
Lufthansa won't respond to many of its own customers. And lately, it won't even reply to a question from this consumer advocate.
So I can imagine how the AirTag story went down. There's a certain corner of the travel blogosphere that skipped journalism school and never took an ethics class. They think a tweet with a question is the same thing as a formal request for comment. Of course, Lufthansa never responded to any of these social media provocations, leading to the false reports of the airline banning AirTags.
It's easy to see how people would believe the lies about Lufthansa. The airline is unresponsive and arrogant. Banning AirTags fits a pattern. The real story, which is that the airline doesn't seem to care about customer service, is much more difficult to tell — far too much work for the lazy loyalty bloggers who want to bait Google for more clicks.
Why everyone lies in travel
There's a bigger story here. Lying is so commonplace in the travel industry that everyone wanted to believe the Lufthansa AirTag story even though they should have known it couldn't possibly be true. I mean, think about it: How can an airline stop you from slipping a key-chain-size device into your checked bags? It can't.
How does the travel industry lie to you? Almost every time it quotes you a price or an employee claims it's doing something "for quality purposes" or "for your convenience," it is probably lying. Your quoted airfare doesn't include taxes and fees or necessities like a seat assignment. Your hotel rate omits the mandatory resort surcharges that even the president railed against last week. When a travel company promises a prompt refund, it's also lying. You'll wait weeks to get your money back — if you get it at all.
Travelers lie right back. They claim they have jury duty or a sick relative to squirm out of a nonrefundable fare or hotel reservation. They also lie about the product, falsely insisting that it doesn't meet standards. Travelers say they didn't receive important disclosures about their fare's refundability or notification about surcharges, even when they did. And there's an entire cottage industry of sites that peddle "mistake" fares and travel mileage hacks using gift cards and card churning — strategies that everyone knows are unethical, if not also dishonest.
But because the travel industry lies to them, they believe the ends justify the means.
No one knows when the lying started, and it doesn't matter. Here we are. They lie to us. We lie to them.
How to travel amid the lies
The lying will not end. The only thing you can do as a consumer is to find a way to travel despite the lies.
Don't believe a word
When an airline gives you a departure time, it could be a lie. Last month, nearly 17 percent of all flights failed to depart on time. When your online travel agency confirms your hotel reservation, when your vacation rental platform sends you a confirmation, same thing. When someone promises you a refund, or when they say they'll deliver your luggage to your hotel this evening, it's probably nonsense. Don't believe a word.
Get everything in writing
Document every promise in an email or on paper. If a car rental employee tells you the vehicle you just returned is "fine," ask for a business card and a final invoice. If a representative offers you a discount or an upgrade, make sure you document it. Employees lie to make you go away, and once you're gone, they forget every promise. I have lost count of the number of cases that begin with a verbal promise and end in disappointment.
Break the cycle
As you travel, you'll see opportunities to get more by bending a few facts. The lies range from seemingly harmless, like using discount codes that weren't meant for you, to knowingly booking a ticket from a site that advertises "mistake" fares. Maybe you can justify lying by saying the travel industry lies to you. But lies beget more lies. And before long, there is no more truth.
Let me be honest: Lufthansa deserves much more shame than a flurry of fictitious news stories about it banning AirTags. It is an airline that no longer believes in good customer service, which is far more embarrassing — and true.
But the underlying problem is much more troubling. Travelers and their surrogates in the blogosphere perpetuated a lie. And they will do it again. Over time, no one will believe anything anyone says anymore. And that will worsen the quality of the travel experience.
Here's my solution
I'm not just going to stand here and watch it happen. I’m starting a new feature called "Fact Check" for this newsletter that will take the travel industry's lies and expose them. You've seen Snopes.com do it. I think it's about time someone did it for consumers.
What do you want me to fact-check first? Email me your suggestions.
Your comments, please
Has a travel company ever lied to you? Have you ever lied back? I'd love to hear your comments. It's a judgment-free zone. We're all friends here.
About the art
Artist Dustin Elliott imagined giant AirTags as luggage — a warning to any airline that misplacing passengers' belongings was no longer an option. "The ghost of Steve Jobs rests easy in the hands of the needy," he says.
Travel Leaders Group is transforming travel through its progressive approach toward each unique travel experience. Travel Leaders Group assists millions of travelers through its leisure, business and network travel operations under a variety of diversified divisions and brands, including All Aboard Travel, Andrew Harper Travel, Colletts Travel, Corporate Travel Services, CruCon Cruise Outlet, Cruise Specialists, Nexion, Protravel International, SinglesCruise.com, Travel Leaders Corporate, Travel Leaders Network and Tzell Travel Group, and its merger with ALTOUR. With more than 7,000 agency locations and 52,000 travel advisors, Travel Leaders Group ranks as one of the industry’s largest retail travel agency companies.
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