North Americans will have plenty of travel mix-up stories to tell after this record-breaking winter—flights have been delayed, airports closed, and plans rearranged. Among those many travel tales, three came with a common lesson: It pays to allow extra time and be adaptable.
Trip cancellation, interruption, and baggage insurance will cover financial losses. But insurance can’t pay to get you to your destination if planes are not flying. So you, your travel agent, and your travel providers may have to work together to rescue your vacation. Here’s how three travellers coped this January.
Gerrit’s story: Gerrit knew winter travel from Calgary can be unpredictable. So, as a precaution, he and his wife planned to fly to Toronto early. If all went well, then they would see friends before joining the rest of their three-generation family on a flight to a Bahamas resort.
Before they left home, they learned renovations to the resort had gone into overtime. Gerrit could have demanded their money back from the tour operator, and turned to their trip cancellation insurer to reimburse what they had paid for flights between Toronto and Calgary. Instead, their travel agent went to bat for them, and they were able to catch another flight, a day earlier, to a sister resort in Jamaica.
They didn’t get seats with the extra legroom they expected on the cancelled flight, but otherwise the time-shifting worked well. “We will have time to meet with our [Toronto] friends at the end of the trip instead of at the beginning,” said Gerrit with a chuckle.
Maureen’s story: Maureen was to fly to Florida to catch a Caribbean cruise ship, but fog delayed her flight from Toronto. As she waited for her suitcase at the Florida airport, she realized she was running out of time.
“I was pretty confused, but one thing was absolutely clear,” she recalls. “If I was not at the ship on time, I would lose the cruise.” So she left with only her walker and a carry-on bag, leaving behind her pretty yellow cane.
Hoping that her suitcase would still be in the airport eight days later, she got to the ship with moments to spare. She hugged and kissed her cab driver, and gave him a big tip. Then, after the ship’s standard emergency drill, she tried to call her airline. Her call from the ship’s satellite phone was not accepted. Later, by email, she enlisted a Toronto friend to follow up on her baggage. Maureen realized too late that the ship’s concierge service would have arranged to have the suitcase sent to San Juan, along with those of several Americans.
“Determined to be positive,” Maureen recalls, “I bought a toothbrush, toothpaste and sunscreen, as well as a couple of tops [to wear].” She had planned well in other respects. Her carry-on bag contained her medicine, identification, cash, credit cards, summer hat, e-reader, camera, and comfortable shoes. She wore a summer outfit under the winter clothes she wore to the airport. She had also had a premonition at the airport in Toronto and moved her bathing suit to the smaller bag.
“I managed okay, and on the fourth day—in San Juan—I hopped into a cab, and went to the American Mall to buy some clothes. But, much to my shock, there was not a single pair of shorts because it’s winter in San Juan and all they had were long pants and sweaters for sale. Boy, was I surprised.” Later, in St. Thomas (US Virgin Islands), she found a T-shirt and jean skirt.
Her airline has told her to submit bills for the extra clothes, plus jewellery that disappeared from her suitcase. Regardless of the tense moments and extra shopping, she says she had a good time. “I did lots of reading, enjoyed dinner with my tablemates, sat in the sun and ate ice cream.”
David’s story: Dave is young personal trainer who found a job in demolition when he arrived in Toronto last October. As a surprise, he flew home to Ireland at Christmas. Upon his return, flights out of Dublin were delayed and Toronto’s Pearson Airport was closed. With no aircraft able to land, trip cancellation and interruption insurance could not have helped him get back to Canada on time.
His airline gave him two options: Return in two days for his flight, or leave later that day to get partway to Toronto. His parents’ home was a two-hour bus ride from the Dublin airport, so he chose to fly to Washington, DC, where the airline had offered to put him up in a hotel and pay for meals for two days.
“A lot of people were concerned and unhappy, but I wasn’t. I made use of the buffet,” boasts the tall, muscular trainer. “I had three plates of breakfast.” The only downside, as far as he was concerned, was that he had to wait four hours for his luggage at Pearson. And for missing appointments with a few of his clients, his boss insisted he rebook the training sessions for free.
The lessons: There will be some travel disappointments you just cannot protect against with insurance. So you may have to be resourceful and adaptable. Allow yourself some extra time when booking flights and transportation to cruise ships and hotels. Ask your service providers for help and advice if things go wrong. Use foresight when packing your carry-on luggage. And vow to have fun, no matter what happens. After all, it’s your vacation!
For more tips, read our blog.