Travel Woes: When Things Go Wrong

By Jae-Ha Kim
July 13, 2017

When I used to travel by myself, I never worried about getting sick in a foreign country. The two times I was sick overseas, I had the good fortune of traveling with a friend who was a pharmacist and being in the company of fellow tourists who shared their countries’ over-the-counter medicine with me.

But now that my husband and I are parents of a young child, we’re more cautious. While most of our vacations have been drama-free, there have been a few incidents that caused us a bit of worry. I talked to some travel industry experts to get their advice on what to do when things go wrong.

Coming home from a recent trip, our packed flight to Chicago was canceled due to mechanical problems. What to do? The first thing we did was stay calm. We didn’t want to be passengers who took out our frustration on the staff. We still had some of the country’s currency on hand, as well as credit cards and snacks that I had taken from our minibar (it was an all-inclusive resort). The airport gave us vouchers that covered a hotel for the evening, some meals and transportation to and from the airport.

We had mentioned to the airline attendant that we were celebrating our anniversary. He congratulated us and apologized that he couldn’t upgrade us to business class. However, he did book us on a non-stop flight home the next day at an ideal time. Some of our fellow passengers were re-booked on red eye flights with multiple stops.

I couldn’t help but wonder if there was a co-relation between the decibel of their voices and their rebooked flights.

“Definitely!” says travel expert and television personality Samantha Brown. “It’s never worth it blowing your top. Treat (the airport employees) with respect, always. The woes of canceled and delayed flights are constantly covered in the press. Yet in my years of travel, it’s only happened to me twice. It’s always good to know your rights and what the airline owes you for that cancellation – whether it’s mechanical or weather. And remember that just because they haven’t offered you something, that doesn’t mean you can’t ask. Just ask as politely as your tired, frustrated and physically drained body can.”

Pauline Frommer of the Frommer’s Travel Guidebook series concurs.

“Don’t only stand on line to speak with the agent at the airport counter,” Frommer advises. “Use your cellphone to call the airline directly and see if you can get re-booked. If you can’t get through to the U.S. number for the airline, consider making an international call and calling agents for the airline somewhere else in the world. You may have better luck getting through to someone at one of your airline’s international call centers. And if they assign you a new flight that’s not convenient, take it, thank them politely, hang up and then call back an hour later. When flights are canceled, you have a lot of passengers scrambling to get to different places, meaning a very fluid situation in terms of seats. Someone booked on the next flight out may cancel, because it doesn’t work with a connecting flight. You never know. So be persistent.”

When our son was four years old, we took him on his first trip to Mexico. We booked the trip through our travel agent, who recommended that we purchase travel insurance, should we need to cancel our trip for any reason. We were told it would also cover any medical bills should we need it.

We needed it. Near the end of our trip, our little guy was lethargic and felt feverish. We took him to the resort clinic, where we were told the travel insurance we had purchased wasn’t accepted. For that, we’d have to go to a hospital much further away. However, the doctor was sympathetic and agreed to take his temperature without charging us. Our son only had a low-grade fever that was treatable with the children’s Ibuprofen we had brought from home. Had we remembered to bring our thermometer, we could’ve saved ourselves a trip to the clinic.

“Most people take their travel agent’s word for it, but travelers have to be diligent when it comes to insurance,” says Chris Elliott, the Travel Troubleshooter. “A vast majority of people don’t read their policy’s fine print and don’t find out what they need to know until they’re out of luck.”

There are two types of travel insurance policies that most vacationers opt for. The most common is the named peril, which would need to outline what issues will be covered. The other, Elliott says, is a cancel for any reason policy where “you don’t even have to give them a reason why you’re canceling. You’ll get a percentage of your money back – usually between 70 and 90 percent. That one is typically about twice as expensive (as the named peril).”

During the last few days of another trip, we experienced torrential rain. The penthouse suite that we had been upgraded to (we traveled during shoulder season when the hotel was fairly vacant) was gorgeous, but flooded. The staff was diligent about mopping and clearing out the pooled rainwater and we didn’t have any damage to our personal items. Luckily, we hadn’t left any electronic devices sitting on the floor, where they would’ve been ruined. Our habit of placing our suitcases on the luggage racks worked well for us. We suffered no damage to our personal property.

“In the case of hotel flooding, it’s always important to make sure you know where the emergency exists are,” says Frommer. “All travelers should make it a habit to look for these exits and note them so that you’ll be able to find them even if the electricity goes out. Your cellphone is a great tool if you need to call for help. Sometimes, even when cell towers are down because of a storm, you can get a text out because if requires much less bandwidth. But you can’t communicate on the cell at all if it isn’t charged. So remember to keep it charged!”

And remember, even if the cell towers are down due to power issues, you may have access to the hotel’s Wi-Fi (for a fee, in many cases). If you have a smart phone, you can use Wi-Fi to make emergency calls to get help.

© 2017 JAE-HA KIM | All Rights Reserved

Comments (6)

  1. Raquel says:

  2. Melissa Pother says:

    What do you do when a United flight crew knock your teeth out and drag you off a flight so they can seat their own employees? Too soon? 😛

  3. Alice Fu says:

  4. Pat Lewis says:

    The insurance business is sleazy all around. It’s always a good idea to read the fine print, like Chris Elliott said. “A vast majority of people don’t read their policy’s fine print and don’t find out what they need to know until they’re out of luck.”

  5. Yoon says:

    This was a really informative article, Jae. I liked the tips on rebooking if you’re bumped from a flight.

  6. Stephen says:

    Your travel agent lied to you but you should have read the contract before purchasing it, too. The insurance company’s job seems to be trying to not pay out. Definitely read the fine print, get them to answer questions via writing (Email) or if on a phone call, record the conversation just like they do. You need proof when fighting an insurance company. They are counting on travelers to be panicked and unaware of what is going on. It sounds like things worked out fine for your family but I am sure there are others who have been cheated by the insurance company as well. Thanks for sharing. I will show this to my sister’s family, who are heading out of the country soon.

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