This crazy, upside down experience we are calling “Quarantine” has provided some interesting lessons for all of us. Here is what I’ve learned regarding any trips/flights/hotel reservations that were made early in the year – before the big “C.” You know, when life was simple and you could simply leave your home without wearing gloves and a surgical mask!
Right now, the last thing most people want to do is to get on an airplane. Unless it is a matter of life and death, I am not flying anyplace (and, as you all know, I LOVE LOVE LOVE traveling). When the whole pandemic thing started, we planned to fly my mother in for the quarantine period. Shortly before she was scheduled to fly, she became absolutely terrified about getting on a plane so the trip was cancelled. We also had flights scheduled to Santa Barbara with a stay at one of my favorite places – The Four Seasons Biltmore in Montecito. Then, there was a long-planned family trip to the Big Island and the Mauna Kea Resort. These all needed to be cancelled and thus began my education on cancelling flights and hotel stays and the vast difference between vouchers, travel certificates and refunds.
The Four Seasons Biltmore proved to be the easiest task (of course, you don’t arrive at “Heaven” status without amazing customer service). Reservations had been made through Classic Travel – find them at www.classictravel.com/rosanna – and were pre-paid and non-refundable. A quick call to the hotel and without any problems the reservation was cancelled and the full amount refunded within 2 days. No questions, no hassle – just a “certainly we understand and look forward to seeing you when this settles down.” I may want to be buried there…..ya know, right by the patio where I order those perfect, icy Cosmos while gazing at the ocean….
Next up United Airlines, we first handled my mother’s trip which was booked with our miles. They were willing to cancel the flights and replace the miles but wanted $75 each way as we were 5 days from the flight or they would change the dates at no charge. My eyes were rolling! The Good Doctor stepped in and changed the flights on-line to August. Then, because we have elite status with United he was able to cancel the flights without any penalties or charges because we were more than 60 days prior to the event. Trip cancelled, miles replaced and no charges!
In mid-March United and most of the airlines began to waive change fees for tickets purchased after the first part of March. We had purchased tickets for to go to LA for the Santa Barbara escape at the Biltmore – grandson baseball games and Grandparent Weekend at their school. The trip was planned for the end of April. By the end of March we were deep into the quarantine and it was obvious that we would not be traveling. A call to United about cancelling and getting a refund with no penalty was zero help. We could cancel and get a voucher for the full amount good for the next 12 months. The voucher would be only good for the person designated on the ticket ie we could not use for other people. We could also get an electronic travel certificate – ETC – good for 2 years that anyone could use. No refund – the flights were still running. A refund was available only if United cancelled the flight. We took the next most logical step HUCA – hang up and call again. Two more calls and the agents/supervisors would not budge even though it would be a “trip in vain.” United was cancelling Denver / LA flights so we decided to wait until the last minute to see if the flight was cancelled – in the days preceding our flight, all but 1 daily flight had been cancelled. Of course, as luck would have it, on our day of travel, 2 flights were not cancelled and one of them was ours. We cancelled and took the 2 ETC’s – you can count on us getting on a plane to somewhere within the next 2 years.
That left us with our late June Hawaii family vacay with a wonderful VRBO home at the Mauna Kea Resort. We had previously stayed at this home and absolutely loved it. The reservation had been made last November and the final non- refundable portion was due in late April. By the end of March Hawaii was locked down – all visitors were subject to a 14-day quarantine. VRBO extended the payment to mid- May but by mid-April it was apparent that United was not going to be flying to Kona anytime soon. A quick call and the VRBO deposit is in process….keep you posted.
United, like most airlines, tends to update schedules around the first weekend of each month. Our family had a mix of elite and non-elite fliers with some people in First and kids in Economy. This past weekend, United came out with a schedule update and as expected, Mainland / Hawaii flights were only going from San Francisco to Honolulu and then a Hawaiian airline connection to Kona. What was originally was a non-stop 7 hour flight with “lie flat” seats was now 13 and ½ hours with 2 stops. All right, we are primed for a refund right? A quick check of our flights shows our original still in our reservations and a quick check confirms that we are unable to book our original flights.
The Good Doctor is on the phone and the conversation goes something like this:
GD – It appears that our flight is cancelled
UA – No, I see it still going
GD – UA has stopped all outer Island flights
UA – Yes, but yours has not been cancelled
GD – Would you please, try to rebook that same itinerary on the exact same dates and times
UA – Sure. It does not show any flights from Denver to Kona on those dates
GD – Ok, so I cannot get there and home on those days and I would like a refund
UA – Correct but your flight has not been cancelled so I cannot give you a refund. We can offer a travel voucher or ETCs
GD – Seriously?
HUCA and get the same story. No flights in the system but our flight has not been cancelled. We have no doubt that it will be but we do not know when.
If you are going to fly, here are a few things you need to know – these are primarily United specific but most US airlines are doing the same things – they are, after all, like Lemmings.
- Middle seats will most likely be blocked (if you’ve seen TV coverage it didn’t quite happen….)
- Boarding will take place from the rear of the plane
- Your confirmed flight will most likely change between the time you purchase the ticket and flight time
- Face coverings will be required while on board (Get ready for wine-stained masks)
- In flight service will go from almost non-existent to non-existent
- Up to at least the end of May and possibly longer, you should be able to cancel and get a voucher or ETC
- You will have to fight for a refund and then only if the airline cancels your flights
The general “take away” here is: Have your wine available BEFORE you dial the airline. Continue said therapy until you are thoroughly confused and dazed by the less-than-rational options you will be offered.
Wander Until Found (with masks on, of course!),