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

There are lessons for all to be learned from the impact of Covid 19. Here I will list 5 things that the travel industry wants the traveller to learn from travel in times of crisis like Covid-19. 

I do not mean to make lightly of the tragedy that Covid-19 has brought to people all over the world. But please remember, I am a travel expert and write from the perspective of the travel industry.

Your travel agent wants your trip to be great – and safe

When you book a trip, a travel agent will make recommendations – but it is up to you, the customer, to decide. 

And your travel agent will always want for you to make smart decisions. Because your travel agent will want your trip to be great – but also safe. 

The travel industry is a truly global industry and we feel it whenever there is a tragic event in the world. We are all to familiar with travel in times of crisis and how it effects out customers.

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

And although nobody was prepared for how Covid 19 would in effect put the world on lock-down, the travel industry will bounce back.

The travel industry is resilient and quick to adapt to whatever the new normal requires.

Summary: the next time you travel advisor suggests a service or product, please ask why. If you do not agree, you do not have to accept. You see, I know from experience that too many people automatically say no thank you without thought or consideration. Please, do not be that person.

Travel in times of crisis and how not all travel agents are created equal

I am not sure when it happened but for many years now it seems that travellers have made it a “competition” to tell everyone how they

  1. pay as little as possible for flights
  2. spend lavishly on great activities and accommodation

Why is that? Why is there a need to save beyond reason when buying flight tickets?

Don’t get me wrong. I am not talking about flying first class or even buying expensive business class tickets.

I am talking about the willingness to buy the cheapest possible flight ticket from basically any agency listed on any price comparison website.

How can that be possible? Why would you not make sure that you choose a business based in your country of residence with a reputation for offering great customer support?

Beyond reading reviews and making sure that you are dealing with a legitimate business you should always demand that your travel agency

  1. Is registered to do business in your country of residence
  2. Offers 24/7 emergency phone support and customer service. 

If not, you should move on and find a different travel agent. If you do not, you may find yourself

  1. Making your claim to a foreign customer protection agency
    If there is 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 will refer you back to your travel agent and your travel agent will open again on the next weekday at 9 am, local time (for them)

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

In times of crisis we see that not all airlines are created equal

When booking flights there are a few different ways to go.

You have the price hunter who will book the cheapest every time. Period.

Then there is the Business or First Class type traveller 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 there are a few basic principles that are good to know when we book out flight

The low cost carrier vs the network carrier 

You find yourself at your destination and your flight home is cancelled and you need to 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.

And 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 and therefore you may have to wait until their next available flight, or spend money to buy yourself 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 to get you home quickly.

The pure vs blended airfare

The rule is simple, whenever there are more than one airline in your booking there is a greater risk for 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 to seek authorization from any other partner airline to proceed with a change 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. 

Needless to say 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.

Insurance should never be an afterthought

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 in case you need to cut your trip short in a hurry?
  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 important to do the homework on insurance coverage when planning a trip. 

Have a plan B 

It was of course near impossible to plan for a pandemic and a global shut down that was unprecedented. 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 simply means that we should know what to do in case something goes wrong.

When we have to 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 enrol in the The Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). STEP is a free service connecting US travellers and nationals living abroad with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.

British nationals can read more here.

Canadians travelling abroad can register and read more here.

Australians travelling abroad can register and read more here.

Taking low-cost and non-refundable to heart

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

I am not talking about when booked parts of your trip are cancelled. 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 however still open and there is a room waiting for you.
  • The hotel is having a really hard 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 as well as flexible and refundable bookings. 

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

Meet the author: With more than 20 years experience from the travel industry, Mattias offers tips, expert advice and a unique perspective anchored in having worked with market leading cruise lines, tour operators, consolidators, airlines and hospitality suppliers. Read more..