But don’t worry. There are solutions.
Perhaps the best advice is to have a little patience. As vaccinations continue to be distributed, travelers should expect covid-related issues to slowly recede. Just last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revised its recommendations for people who have been vaccinated, basically giving them the green light to travel again.
It’s just the beginning. Soon, refunds for canceled bookings will start moving faster. Flight schedules will be a little less mercurial. And maybe travel will become less of an uncertain thing.
Until then, here are common travel problems and solutions:
Problem: Getting a refund for a canceled trip.
Solution: Persistence — and a reliable credit card.
Sadly, many travelers are still waiting for refunds. If you’re among them, you already know that persistence is important. Gentle — and above all, polite — pressure usually can get results. But not always. If it’s been six to eight weeks since a travel company promised you your money back, consider a credit card dispute. Under the Fair Credit Billing Act, you can ask your credit card issuer to reject charges for travel services canceled by the provider.
Problem: An involuntary rescheduling.
Solution: The terms and conditions.
Involuntary rescheduling “is an unavoidable problem,” explains Maya Hanna Saad, a travel adviser with Bluewater Travel, a company that specializes in diving trips. Fortunately, many operators offer customers some form of free rescheduling to keep them happy. But you have to be prepared to accept a credit, as opposed to a full refund.
“If your operator cancels your trip and doesn’t offer any compensation, start by contacting them and stating exactly what you are looking to achieve,” Saad says. Keep everything in writing, Saad says, and appeal to someone at a higher level, like a vice president or CEO, if necessary.
Ultimately, your right to a refund can be found in the terms and conditions of your purchase. But here is a pro tip: Some travel companies have tried to change their terms and conditions retroactively to avoid having to pay full refunds during the pandemic. Don’t look for the terms online; instead, consult the fine print in the agreement you signed when you booked your trip. (If you book online, make a printout.)
Problem: Not knowing what might happen when you go.
Solution: Research, research, research.
Everything is up in the air for travelers such as Elaine Deutsch. She has reserved a week at a resort on Kauai, one of the Hawaiian islands, for this spring, but she says there are too many uncertainties for her to pay for the airfare. “Who knows what will happen?” says Deutsch, a docent at the Oakland Zoo. She also has a week planned in Palm Desert, Calif., for later in the year, but that, too, is on hold. “I would like to think that we can get one other trip in at some point,” she says.
The fix is more research. The pandemic has made health-related travel rules more complicated — more likely to change from place to place and from day to day. You need the tenacity of a librarian to master them. But travelers are doing the work. “People have been getting better at informing themselves and understanding entry requirements and travel restrictions,” says Christina Tunnah, general manager for the Americas at World Nomads, a travel insurance company.
Problem: Other travelers.
Solution: A plan of action.
Travelers who refuse to mask up or practice social distancing are a significant concern for people with future travel plans. You can do everything right and still come home sick.
Erica James, a travel agent from Nashville, recently returned from a business trip in Jamaica. The resorts where she stayed required guests to wear a mask when ordering at the bar or at the buffet. But elsewhere, there were no rules, and guests behaved as if it were still 2019. But James had a plan.
“The best way to handle a situation like that is to protect yourself and look out for yourself,” she says. “That is all that you can do. If people get within my six feet of space, I move to another area. If I am standing in line and someone is too close behind me, I have asked for the person to kindly give me my six feet.”
Her advice: Figure out what you’re going to do about other people before you leave.
Let’s get one thing straight as we embark on the 2021 travel season. “The biggest travel problem is covid-19,” says Heather Hatcher, a charter management director of IYC, an international yachting company.
Little surprise that travelers are now planning their 2021 trips in great detail, or that they are consulting professionals. But as more people get vaccinated, this year will start looking a little more normal — and a little less scary.
Elliott is a consumer advocate, journalist and co-founder of the advocacy group Travelers United. Email him at [email protected]