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Family Travel Tips

by Lux Joseph 16. May 2014

CME makes travel arrangements each and every day to bring loved one’s back home. At the same time, you may be arranging travel for an upcoming family trip. Anyone who's ever taken a family trip knows they have the potential to be both stressful and rewarding at the same time. We all have fond memories of embarrassing family photo opportunities and harmonizing in the backseat to pass the time, along with not-so-fond memories of airport hassles and bungled arrangements.

The secret to a successful family trip lies not only with extensive preparation but smart planning. This is the same approach we take when planning a medical escort repatriation and we have some tips that will help you plan a smooth vacation. Designing a vacation that appeals to a range of age groups can be quite challenging. How can you find family-friendly accommodations? How do you determine which destinations will appeal to both adults and children? How do you make it through the airport without pulling your hair out?

Rest assured, it is possible for families to have their "dream vacation," and more and more families are asking their travel agents for help. Approximately 77 percent of ASTA agents surveyed recently said they were currently booking more family vacation travel as compared to the previous year. In response to this increasing demand, an influx of new and varied intergenerational travel products have been introduced. And from theme parks to cruises to European vacations, there's something for every family.

At CME, we use our in-house travel department to make all the arrangements for our medical escort repatriations. We encourage you to contact your travel agent as they can help you explore your options and choose the vacation that's ideal for all your loved ones. Agents are one-stop-shopping - they offer planning services that include air, hotel, sightseeing, cruises and more. They also have a wealth of travel information and advice such as visa requirements, packing tips, travel insurance and international permit requirements for drivers. And agents are there to offer follow-up help if something should go wrong and can alert vacationers to scams. Plus, your travel agent can help you land the best group rates available on the vacation that's right for you.

The first step in planning your family vacation is to designate a group leader. As the saying goes, "Too many cooks spoil the broth," so appointing one person to be in charge is the best way to prevent possible spats. At CME, each individual in our office has a special role in putting together the repatriation for our clients. By selecting a key individual for your family vacation this individual will have responsibilities ranging from shopping around for the best group deals to holding on to everyone's tickets and coupons. Even if you decide not to appoint a leader, keep in mind that it's best to deal with one travel agent - you'll avoid potential confusion and get the best rates.

Families should book their flights well in advance so that they can get the best price and the most hassle-free arrangements. Whenever possible, groups should opt for non-stop flights even if it costs more. The stress of regrouping after members run to the bathroom, gift shops and food stands isn't worth the few dollars you'll save. It's always a good idea to invest in trip cancellation insurance, particularly when traveling with a group. CME always looks for the most direct routing to move our patients. This eliminates the hassle of potentially missing connections and ensures the most safe and secure transport flight.

Allow plenty of time for check-in and also between connecting flights. Arriving early to board together prevents last minute delays and confusion. We strongly suggest our medical escorts arrive three hours prior to an international departure and two hours prior to a domestic departure.  It would be great to consider establishing a buddy system to ensure that no one gets left behind.

When it comes to choosing accommodations, consider all-inclusive cruises or resorts - they're the ideal way to organize the big trip. All-inclusive venues usually have a variety of activities and foods that appeal to every age. Cruises have become instant family favorites because all activities are preplanned so you'll spend more quality time together. Condominiums can simplify group planning and typically provide accommodations like multiple bedrooms and full-kitchens that are ideal for value and convenience. Also look for resorts that advertise children's programs, not just children's facilities. Children's programs include planned activities in addition to such amenities as a gameroom or playground. A travel agent can recommend family-friendly accommodations to meet your family's needs.

When booking a room, be sure to ask for connecting rather than adjoining rooms. Connecting rooms have a door between them whereas adjoining rooms are side-by-side with no connecting door. Also ask for a room with a refrigerator - this is especially important for families traveling with infants who will need formula and juice. Since we all know how expensive food can be at resorts, you'll also save money by keeping snacks around for hungry teenagers.

When planning activities, families are encouraged to be open to new ideas or as one agent recommended, "Have a good sense of humor and keep it!" Family members should take turns choosing the group's activities - they might even discover an interest they never knew they had. And don't forget to include children in the decision-making process. This will make them feel that this is their vacation, too, and they're not just stuck tagging along on the adults' trip. Plan back-up and optional activities for those times when everyone begins to moan and the kids start teasing each other.

Also be sure to factor in down-time so that individuals have the opportunity to pursue their own interests. Don't attempt to do everything together. Giving people their space can go a long way toward promoting group harmony.

Families traveling with infants and small children require significantly more planning, not to mention packing, but the reward of spending undivided time together is well worth it. Reserve a crib in advance and make sure there's a laundry room on the premises where you'll be staying. This will allow you to pack fewer baby clothes. Packing a light umbrella stroller and a child-carrying backpack are among the easiest ways to get around. Car seats are also recommended since they help settle little ones during feedings and quiet time. If you think you might need extra help on the plane, ask for a seat in the back. Flight attendants tend to sit there when not serving passengers.

Don't go overboard packing toys. Children tend to lose interest in them quickly, and they take up a lot of room. Pack a few small favorites and don't forget a cherished book and blanket. Always keep snacks easily accessible in a purse or fanny pack. Children might not like the food offered in foreign restaurants, hotels or on planes. A great tip for parents is to freeze juice boxes if they will be taking a long flight or walking around all day. Pack a goodie bag with surprises to distract little ones who get fussy on the plane.

Traveling with teens also requires planning. Encourage them to pack snacks, books and a CD or cassette headset in their carry-on luggage. Consider allowing older children to bring along a friend - that may help build their enthusiasm for the trip.

Whether traveling with teens or tots, parents should chronicle all vital medical information and make copies of important prescriptions. Have pagers or cellular phones available in case someone gets lost or left behind. If you don't own either, check with your travel agent about renting them. Never allow members to go anywhere alone. Remember the old camp adage: "There's safety in numbers."

Although there are many factors to consider when booking travel for the entire family, a travel agent can help make the planning stages as pleasant and exciting as your actual trip. From locating kid-friendly hotels to booking a room with a refrigerator, your experienced travel agent can take care of all the details and arrangements - even the ones you hadn't thought of. So, all you have to do is relax and enjoy your trip.

CME's Outlook on Hospitality

by Lux Joseph 18. April 2014

Within every industry a company can choose to settle with the status quo, or they can seek to differentiate themselves and be a product of innovation and excellence. Some individuals may classify the medical repatriation field as its own unique industry, but you could also say that our industry is part of a larger vision called “hospitality”.  Hospitality is about being hospitable to your guests or clients. It is about creating that memorable experience, and that is what we aim to achieve at Commercial Medical Escorts. Most people would say that being brought home with a medical escort after an injury or falling ill when you were on your vacation is not an enjoyable memory they want to remember, but at Commercial Medical Escorts our nurses and physicians go above and beyond to make the journey back home safe and comfortable each step of the way. Our bedside to bedside service is designed to take the stress, anxiety, and potential overwhelming process of getting a loved one back home away from the patient or companion and in the hands of our professionally educated logistics coordinators who will put together a smooth transfer.

American Airlines is taking that same approach to their product and delivering excellence in hospitality to each of their travelers. American Airlines believes that they know how to be an airline, and that isn’t what they want to be anymore. They understand that they are part of the hospitality industry and each and every traveler is their guest. Just like each and every patient we transport home is our guest. American Airlines has taken their philosophy of hospitality and applied it to the new designs of their 777-200 planes. What was once the galley that you walked through to get to your seat is now being transformed into a lobby bar. American Airlines doesn’t believe you should be going to your seat like you did before, but now going to your individualized suite that includes a comfortable duvet, a seatback that reminds the traveler of a bed in a luxury hotel. This new look is part of AA/US Airways merger and it is focused on the hotel in the sky (http://skift.com/2014/04/14/american-airlines-has-designs-on-becoming-your-hotel-in-sky/#1).

A design of a product or service is just one part of hospitality and it is important to understand that service and hospitality are not the same. Service is the efficient execution of a series of actions. At Commercial Medical Escorts we deliver a service each and every day. Our service is about efficiently doing what our clients expect. However, hospitality is about doing what is unexpected and personal to your guest in a given moment. American Airlines has implemented new designs and new levels of service, but ultimately their level of hospitality needs to stay in alignment with their service.

Commercial Medical Escorts delivers our product to many assistance companies, hospital case managers, private clients, and hospitals worldwide, but hospitality is not what we do, but how we make others feel. A patient that is transported by CME back home with a nurse escort may not be able to describe the hospitality, but they will know it from the moment the transfer begins. Hospitality will not be found in what our operations staff or medical escorts are doing, but it will be generated in the atmosphere. It is the relationship between the patient and our company. American Airlines hospitality is the relationship between the traveler and AA. The ultimate goal that CME, American Airlines, and other companies in hospitality are striving for is to ensure our customers feel welcome, comfortable, and satisfied.

CBP to Add Additional Workforce

by Lux Joseph 14. April 2014

On every international mission that Commercial Medical Escorts (CME) does, our medical escorts interact with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). On a daily basis over a million individuals enter the United States and each individual arriving at a port of entry to the USA is subject to inspection by a CBP officer. As you can imagine, each international flight has approximately 200-300 passengers on board and some of these flights arrive to a destination at the same time or within minutes.  The high volume of passengers arriving into port of entries around the USA, does not always align with the right number of CBP officers on staff to handle the demand of screening required. This shortage of appropriate staff can affect travelers significantly and ultimately cause major frustration for frequent travelers and those making a tight connection within the USA.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection has announced it will be hiring 2,000 new officers in the near future. The project was made possible with Congress allocating $255 million to hire these officers. This increase in staff will significantly impact the CBP’s ability to meet the needs at 44 ports across 18 states in the United States of America. This increase in staff is a 10% growth for CBP, and hopefully the addition of new team members will help the department improve the travel and tourism industry. When Commercial Medical Escorts’ travel department looks for the best routing to transport a patient back home connection time is a key factor in consideration especially at hub airports. The cities that are expected to get an increase in CBP offices are Detroit; Buffalo N.Y., Houston; Los Angeles; New York; Dallas; New Orleans; Laredo, Texas; and Nogales, Ariz.

When any company or organization increases their workforce, looking at the areas of improvement is one of the first steps in ensuring the correct allocation of team members. For the U.S. Customs and Border Protection they are looking at delays in certain ports of entry and the time during the day in which it occurs. During our medical escort missions, some escorts have been delayed up to three hours awaiting CBP process screening. Imagine a delay like this and typically connection time is between 2-5 hours for international flights.  CME hopes to see that this increase in CBP officers will be allocated at current international airports that are struggling with handling the volume of travelers that are entering the USA on a given day.

We must understand that the 2,000 additional workforce will be divided between both airports and land ports of entry. Our travel department advised that although the CBP has not indicated how the force will be allocated, the travel industry is fighting for a significant amount to be positioned at airports, at least 1,000 at the gateway airports.

U.S. Travel has set a goal of having 80% of all arriving travelers screened within thirty minutes. Goals within every organization set a benchmark for achievement. This goal helps airports to staff accordingly to meet the metric based on their specific airport volume. The National Center for Risk and Economic Analysis of Terrorism Events, University of South California evaluated that adding a single CBP Officer equates to annual benefits of:

  • $2 million increase in Gross Domestic Product
  • $640,000 saved in opportunity costs
  • 33 jobs added to the economy

It is common knowledge that the current number of CBP Officers is insufficient. Additional CBP Officers will reduce wait times and meet the needs of the travel industry. At Commercial Medical Escorts, we look forward to improvements to processes that improve our medical escort process. 


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