A few tips and considerations on holiday disasters.
In the course of 29 years of operation as Tour Operators, here at Tuscan Enterprises we have witnessed practically everything that the world can throw at travelers coming to Tuscany or Europe in general. From early 1990 terrorist attacks on trains and airports, to the cancellation of all flights right after the disaster of 9/11 and the Twin Towers, to the latest airport shutdown caused by the Icelandic Eyjafjallajokull (totally unpronounceable) volcano’s ash. Each time some major disaster takes place, I always wonder why it is so impossible for airport authorities and local administrations to handle the problems that present themselves, and which are, basically, always the same.
First off you have a series of people and families that are stranded. They were looking forward to a holiday and suddenly are faced with unfriendly airport lobbies and people who really do not know what to tell them or what advice to give. I have always strongly supported the view that there should be an organized task force ready to enter the situation and help people solve their immediate and urgent problems. This task force should be composed of airline experts, airport authorities (meaning those who run the airports – do not make the mistake of thinking that the airports are run by the airline companies because this is not the case), local administrations and especially staff from the tourist offices.
People need to be informed if the holdup is short or extended and if it will ruin their holiday and force them to postpone it. This is generally up to the airport authorities to tell them. If it is just a hiccup of the system and tied to something minor such as engine trouble or replacement of an airplane with another, or a question of overbooking or such similar problems (hassles, but not serious in the end), then they can be dealt with immediately by the airlines, which are responsible for rebooking and rescheduling the flights and putting up people in local hotels or other accommodations while solving the situation.
If the problem is more complicated, such as flights being cancelled because of some disaster (natural or otherwise), then the airport authorities and the local administrations need to step in and set up specific help desks to assist passengers. Assistance will span the gamut from rescheduling flights, to booking alternative travel via trains or rental cars or bus lines, to finding alternative accommodations for people who can expect to face an extended wait.
This was totally missing during the latest volcano disaster: if the associations that represent local Hotels and Bed and Breakfasts had been present with help desks in the airports, a lot of people would have found alternative accommodations instead of being taken in by hustlers and others who took advantage of them in such a despicable way. The airlines did what they could, but they too were overwhelmed as their responsibility was limited to rescheduling flights, reimbursing tickets, or booking single nights in local hotels. The brunt of the problems that rose was left entirely to them to handle and this is not fair.
Now, what should you do once you find out that you cannot have your flight rescheduled and will probably miss your holiday completely? The first thing is something you should have done when you made your booking if you were due to go to a hotel or to a Villa or similar accommodation: have taken out holiday cancellation insurance.
We suggest this on our website, tour operators suggest it to their clients and so do the travel agents. You can generally get a good deal from your own insurance company and it is worth the cost of 2 – 3% of your total holiday expense. If you do not have cancellation insurance, then the loss is totally yours, with exception of the cancelled flights which airlines will reschedule or reimburse, and if you are on an organized tour, then part of your tour package includes cancellation insurance.
The first thing to do is to notify your family at home and also the people waiting for you at your destination (hotel, villa key holder, agency office, etc) that you are not going to arrive and that they should not wait for you. If the Hotel manages to rebook your rooms, then they are likely to not charge you anything. A Villa or house owner, on the other hand, will probably not be able to find alternative guests on short notice and will not reimburse you as they have simply lost the booking. The nicer owners will let you reschedule a holiday at a later date at a discounted cost to help make up for your ruined holiday. But they are not responsible for your plight. If you have cancellation insurance, at least, asking the owner or the Travel Agent to write a declaration attesting that you were not present for your booked holiday, will put you in condition to claim the full reimbursement from the insurance company.
So, my final advice is really down to that one simple basic bit: purchase holiday cancellation insurance when you book your holiday. You will not be sorry you did so. And have patience when faced with this kind of a problem as there is very little that you can do directly to solve it. Be sure to ask advice from those who are in charge as they are the most updated on what is actually happening.
Photos courtesy of The Boston Globe and my compliments to the photographer.