Travel in times of crisis – 5 things to learn & remember

The travel industry is truly global, and we feel it significantly when an adverse event affects many people simultaneously.

Should it be earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, senseless acts of war or terror, hurricanes, or a pandemic, we worry about our customers and partners at airlines, hotels, resorts, and cruise ships worldwide.

And although nobody was prepared for how Covid 19 would, in effect, put the world on lockdown, the travel industry has bounced back. It is resilient and quick to adapt to whatever the new normal requires.

1. Find a travel agent you trust

I am not sure when it happened, but for many years now, it seems that travelers have made it a “competition” to tell everyone how they pay as little as possible for flights and spend lavishly on great activities and accommodation.

Why is that? Why is there a need to save beyond reason when buying flight tickets? We are not talking about flying first class or purchasing expensive business class tickets. Rather about the willingness to buy the cheapest possible flight ticket from basically any agency listed on any price comparison website.

We would say that it is better to choose a business based in your country of residence with a reputation for offering excellent customer support.

Beyond reading reviews and ensuring that you are dealing with a legitimate business, you should always check that your travel agency is registered to do business in your country of residence and offers 24/7 emergency phone support and customer service. 

If not, you should move on and find a different travel agent, as you may find yourself in difficulty if you encounter the following situations:

  1. Making your claim to a foreign customer protection agency
    If there is a dispute or a claim to be settled, you do not want to find yourself making your case in any other country than your country of residence.
  2. Stranded at your location with nobody to call
    The airline may refer you to your travel agent if you need help, but if your travel agent doesn’t open again until the next weekday at 9 am local time, you have no one to assist you.

Please vet your travel agency as carefully as you check any other professional service provider. When a crisis like Covid-19 hits, it pays to have a solid travel partner assisting you with flights, claims, refunds, etc.

2. Be smart when booking your flight ticket

When booking flights, there are a few different ways to go. You have the price hunter who will secure the cheapest every time. Then there is the Business or First Class type traveler using reward points or with money to spend.

And then there is the rest of us. We do not want to pay more than we have to, but we also want the trip to work. And for us, a few fundamental principles are good to know when we book our flight.

The low-cost carrier vs. the network carrier 

Imagine your flight home is canceled, and you must get home. When you are booked to travel in times of crisis, what do you do? 

When you contact the airline or your travel agent to re-book your trip, you will quickly learn that the airline does not want to buy you a new ticket. 

They want to put you on their next available flight. But what do you do if the next scheduled flight is tomorrow or even a couple of days from now?

Low-cost carriers do not usually cooperate with network carriers, so you may have to wait until their next flight or spend money to buy a new ticket home with an alternative airline.

If you, on the other hand, booked with a network carrier, you may have paid a little more, but you will find that they can book you on other airlines in their group or alliance. In other words, there is more choice and a greater possibility of getting you home quickly.

The pure vs. blended airfare

The rule is simple. Whenever there is more than one airline in your booking, there is a greater risk of complications.

Let’s look at an example. You have a roundtrip booked from New York to Paris via Amsterdam with Delta Air Lines.  

Example 1:

New York to Amsterdam DL101  (Delta flight number)
Amsterdam to Paris DL102  (Delta flight number)

Paris to Amsterdam DL103  (Delta flight number)
Amsterdam to New York DL104  (Delta flight number)

Example 2:

New York to Amsterdam DL101  (Delta flight number)
Amsterdam to Paris AF102  (Air France flight number)

Paris to Amsterdam AF103  (Air France flight number)
Amsterdam to New York DL104  (Delta flight number)

In both examples, the booking is a Delta Air Lines ticket with airlines in the SkyTeam alliance, Delta and Air France. 

But as we in example 1 have Delta prefixes (DL)  on all flight numbers, Delta Air Lines would be the only airline involved in case of schedule changes or cancellations. Delta would not need authorization from any other partner airline to proceed with a difference or re-booking. 

In example 2, on the other hand, we could find ourselves in a situation where Delta Airlines could need the permission of Air France to proceed with a re-booking. 

It is unlikely that there would be a problem with our example 2 booking above.  But it is good to understand the principle as there – especially on international tickets to smaller destinations – sometimes can be a problem when we have smaller airlines with fewer available departures and seats.

3. The importance of good travel insurance

Always make sure that you have purchased sufficient insurance coverage for your trip.

Especially when you are booked to travel in times of crisis like Covid-19, the importance of checking your insurance coverage cannot be stressed enough.

Having sufficient insurance coverage has, of course, always been true. But please take the time to understand your coverage. Some of the questions you need to ask yourself are:

  1. What is covered if you must cut your trip short quickly?
  2. Are you covered if the airline is flying, but you are not allowed entry to your destination?
  3. What is covered if you are forced to stay for longer than intended?
  4. Would Covid 19 now be seen as a pre-existing condition as it is known, and if so, what would the implications be to your insurance coverage?

Covid 19 has taught us to be prepared for the unexpected, and it is essential to do the homework on insurance coverage when planning a trip. 

4. Have a plan B 

It was, of course, near impossible to plan for an unprecedented pandemic and global shutdown. But still, it does make a lot of sense to have a Plan B in case things do not pan out as planned.

Having a Plan B means knowing what to do if something goes wrong.

When we travel in times of crisis, we should know who to call, who to contact, and where to go if needed.

US Citizens and nationals can enroll in The Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). STEP is a free service connecting US travelers and residents living abroad with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.

British nationals can read more here.

Canadians traveling abroad can register and read more here.

Australians traveling abroad can register and read more here.

5. Taking low-cost and non-refundable to heart

When you book flights, accommodation, activities, tours, etc., it is essential to understand that chasing the lowest possible price at all times will most likely mean no flexibility and no refunds.

I am not talking about when booked parts of your trip are canceled. That would be an insurance matter. 

I am referring to not being able to arrive at your hotel or to take part in that safari you booked and paid for. What happens when you need to cancel?

Will you get a refund? 

Well, what do you think is fair in the scenario below?

  • You booked a non-refundable hotel room at a smashing rate. 
  • Now you are unable to travel to the destination and check in.
  • The hotel is still open, and a room is waiting for you.
  • The hotel is having a tough time as there are lots of cancellations.

You are, of course, not automatically entitled to a refund. The booking is non-refundable, and the room is available to you.

To be guaranteed the right to a refund, you should have booked a flexible, refundable room rate and most likely paid a bit more for your reservation.

There is, of course, a time and place for non-refundable, flexible, and refundable bookings. 

Just be aware and do not automatically assume that a lower price is always the smartest choice.

Meet the author: Sarah has created and booked hundreds of travel itineraries for thousands of customers during a career in the travel industry that spans 20 years. Having worked hand in hand with cruise lines, hotels, airlines and tour operators worldwide, she offers inspiring & detailed insights in the world of travel and tourism.

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