Travel during Upheavel or “Irregular Operations”
Upheaval: A sudden or violent change or disruption
Travel is a little like using technology – when it works, it works, and it is amazing. But when things go wrong, affectionately referred to as “irregular operations” in airline parlance, it can be the most excruciating, frustrating experience.
Upheaval in travel can be caused by many things—weather, mechanical delays, war, protests, pandemic etc—but the end result is the same. Upheaval leaves travelers confused, exhausted and sometimes displaced. No matter the cause it is not fun to fix! Taking a few precautions before you travel and follow some basic tips when things go wrong can go a long way to ensuring you have a great time and stay healthy and safe.
Here are some tips to help you prepare for and deal with travel upheaval:
This is always our number one piece of travel advice, applicable before and during your journeys. Look for elegant solutions and you may be pleasantly surprised how often you find them.
If something happens (or is predicted to happen—like a snow storm or the coronavirus) before you depart it is almost always better for you to have the travel vendors cancel than for you to cancel so unless you absolutely do not want to go you should take a wait and see approach.
Consider different airports nearby on both arriving and departure cities. Oftentimes even a few hours drive away you will be able to find somewhere that is able to accommodate you. Most airlines will rebook you from a close airport different than your original departure city—so if it’s snowing in Baltimore consider going just a bit further south and flying out of Washington, DC.
Consider just staying put. One of the best “vacations” we ever took was the extra week we spent at Puerto Aventuras in southern Spain. It was completely unplanned but a hurricane in Florida led to the cancellation of our flight home and we decided rather than spend every day at the airport looking for a flight that would get us home we would just take a time to relax and enjoy a place we have never been. It was fantastic and at the end of the week we flew home without any trouble at all – an added bonus was that the cost of delay was covered by travel protection.
Timing is everything with air travel so give yourself a buffer and assume something will go wrong.
Plan to arrive one or two days early for a cruise, tour, or special event. This will go a long way to reducing anxiety if you should be delayed.
Always avoid the last flight of the day on your connecting legs if you are making a connection otherwise you may find yourself looking for a place to sleep at your connecting airport. If you know you have several options later in the day it’s a lot less stressful and gives you options.
Several credit cards offer travel protection so it’s always good to make strategic use of those cards when making you initial travel purchase. Contact Rick by email if you’d like recommendations or credit card referral links.
Know your rights:
Know your rights (we are usually able to help both before and during your travel) and be firm in obtaining what is prescribed by your contract or law. For example, if your travel involves air travel beginning or ending in the European Union then you may be entitled to cash compensation (not a credit, but actual money in your bank account) if there is a significant delay.
You would be surprised how many clients book travel and never even glance at the terms and conditions. Always read when you are booking to see what the policies are.
In general airlines are responsible for providing food, hotel vouchers, and transportation for mechanical delays or anything else that is under their control. They are not responsible for weather delays. (consider travel protection for this—see below)
Always document the delay and the cause of the delay – save text messages, email, and paper documents – save it all. Many U.S. airlines have online forms for passengers to request documentation though we also always advise to get something in writing from the airline personnel at the gate!
It’s worth another mention to be aware of what travel protection benefits you may have through a third-party policy or through credit card you used to purchase your travel (see more below).
Enroll in STEP:
STEP (Smart Traveler Enrollment Program) is a free program by the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Consular Affairs that allows you to stay informed and connect with U.S. Embassies and Consulates in your destination. This is the best way to be sure you are aware of anything from civil unrest to natural disasters and everything in between. It gives the State Department important information to keep you and your family back at home informed in the case of an emergency. We cannot stress enough how important this is. It is the type of thing that you will likely never need, but volcanoes erupt, wars break out and epidemics spread without warning. Staying safe means staying connected.
This is critical during an outbreak of a disease, but important all the time.
Bring plastic bags for your personal items when going through security. The bins at airport security checkpoints are used repeatedly by multiple travelers throughout the day. Have you ever seen a bin disinfected? They are touched, handled, hold shoes, garments, bags, you name it. Don’t put your stuff directly in the bins and read this article if you really want the dirt. Pun intended.
Wear socks, or even two pairs of socks so you are able to remove one pair immediately after you go through security. Even if you are going to a tropical climate and prefer sandals the last thing you want is to get some kind of foot fungus walking barefoot through security. Sandals are easy to pack in a suitcase—don’t wear them on a plane.
Always have disinfectant wipes to wipe down your airplane seat, tray, arm rests, seat belt buckle etc. Use hand sanitizer or wash your hands anytime you touch anything. That seems extreme, but it does work. TSA published a video on Twitter about what you are able to bring through security.
Consult your doctor prior to travel to be sure you don’t need any vaccines or anti-malarial medication for your destination. Always look up your country specific destination page on the CDC website before booking.
Carry extra medication with you in case you get stuck and always bring a copy of your prescription for customs in case they have any questions.
Call your health insurance provider well before you depart to see what you are covered for and what you are not covered for. Most U.S. health policies have little to no coverage for repatriation if you are seriously ill, injured or deceased. Some policies cover emergency care abroad while others do not. Please note that many countries require payment up front and in cash for medical care. There are many different nuances to paying for health care abroad and you need to be sure you understand your policy before you travel. Travel insurance can help bridge any gaps in your coverage and offer in country support to cover bills as they are incurred.
Travel Protection and Insurance can be invaluable for many types of travel interruptions and difficulties. There are a variety of coverage levels that will assist you for cancellation, interruption, medical emergencies, repatriation of remains, medevac etc. They are not fool proof though. During the recent coronavirus epidemic many travelers were surprised to learn their insurance does not cover them in the event of a worldwide epidemic. Cancel for any reason policies are the best in ensuring everything is covered, but even these can have many exclusions so be sure to purchase through a reputable company and read the policy carefully before you purchase, coordinating directly with the insurance provider with any questions (preferably in writing).
If you’re trying to get a sense of the cost of travel protection and options then feel free to the embedded third party quote on our web site. Policies for individual, groups, and annual plans at varying coverage levels are available from mulitple providers:
Know who to call:
Obviously booking through a travel agent gives you a head start in knowing who to call. Travel agents not only book trips, but a good one will help you navigate your options when things go wrong. They will tell you who to call or if possible they will do all the rearranging for you so you can just relax. We usually have direct access to booking systems but only when we’ve made the booking. If a call is required then we wait on hold for you!
Realize that if you book directly with an online consolidator then they may have specific change policies above and beyond the travel provider. News stories during the developing coronavirus pandemic have highlighted long hold times for consumers trying to reach the travel desks of big box retailers selling travel as a side business. Before you book your travel ask the provider how changes are handled during a time of crisis.
If you go on your own be sure to bring with you all the contact information for every travel vendor you use. Have a list of phone numbers and web sites in your travel notes or your travel app (we load everything for our clients to our travel app).
If you can’t get through to a real person try social media. Sometimes Facebook messages or Twitter direct messages get their own response teams.
Always take action you feel is the safest and most appropriate. Wear a face mask even if nobody else is wearing one. Locate the emergency exits in your hotel or on your aircraft. If you feel unsafe follow your instincts even if you can’t identify why you feel that way. Survival is a mindset—this statement is not an exaggeration.
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