Imagine you’re packed and ready for your holiday adventure, but then a snowstorm hits. What do you do? Amidst the festive hustle, a recent event like the grounding of flights at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol due to freezing fog is a stark reminder that travel can be unpredictable.
For many South African travellers, the festive season is a mix of excitement and potential travel hiccups, ranging from snowstorms to technical glitches. As we embark on this period of high spirits and increased passenger traffic, preparing for the unexpected is key. Lynette Machiri, Customer Experience Team Leader at Flight Centre, shares essential advice for these busy times.
“December and January are notorious for travel disruptions,” says Machiri. “It’s essential for travellers to understand their rights, the role of the travel service provider, the travel agent and travel insurance and the importance of staying informed.”
Flight Centre sheds light on common travel mishaps and answers frequently asked questions, offering practical advice:
- My flight is delayed or grounded due to weather. Now what?
Airlines have different approaches to managing weather-related delays or cancellations. Typically, they offer options to reschedule your travel, often transferring you to the next available flight, or sometimes providing a refund, depending on their specific policies.
In cases of extended delays, you might need to arrange an overnight stay. The best bet to ensure you never have to sleep on a cold airport floor? Know what your airline’s policy is in terms of travel disruptions and always have travel insurance as a backup, advises Machiri. A travel agent can help you make sense of those lengthy airline terms and conditions.
- My travel documents are lost or stolen.
Act fast by contacting your travel agent and insurance provider. Your agent can advise if your travel booking can be placed on hold, dates moved or travel cancelled and a refund obtained.
Report the incident to the local authorities. If you are travelling internationally and your passport has been stolen, you can approach the South African High Commission in your destination for assistance.
Visit www.dirco.gov.za and navigate to Consular Services under the Services tab for information related to South African citizens travelling abroad.
- I missed my flight.
Inform your travel agent promptly to explore rebooking options, as per the airline terms and conditions of your ticket. If you have missed your flight due to certain scenarios covered under your travel insurance policy, contact your insurance provider for assistance.
- I have fallen ill prior to departure.
Seek medical attention and notify your travel agent and travel insurance provider. Insurance may cover cancellation or change fees due to medical reasons (a doctor’s note or medical certificate will be required), and your agent can help with rearranging your travel plans.
- Something came up and I need to cancel my trip
If your plans suddenly change, immediately contact your travel agent in writing to make adjustments or cancellations to your travels. If your travel is imminent, follow up your mail with a call to ensure your travel agent sees to your booking speedily. The last thing you want is to appear as a no-show at the airport. Many bookings and airfares have non-refundable fees and cancellation policies vary widely depending on factors like fare rules and supplier terms and conditions.
Ensure you understand the rules for our ticket before booking. It’s worth paying extra for a flexible ticket, instead of just opting for the cheapest one, if you suspect your plans may change.
- I forgot to obtain a visa
Contact your travel agent to see what can be done with your travel booking. Unfortunately, insurance policies don’t usually cover this.
Reliable tools like IATA Travel Centre or the FCTG Travel News Hub offer frequently updated visa and documentation specifics. You can also check visa information directly with the embassy of the country you intend visiting, or visa processing centres such as TLS Contact, BLS, VFS Global and Capago who assist in facilitating a variety of visas.
- Is travel insurance worth it?
In short: yes it is. Machiri strongly recommends securing comprehensive travel insurance. This not only covers cancellations and interruptions but can also assist with medical emergencies and lost luggage.
“Travel insurance can help offset cancellation penalties or replacement costs from interrupted holidays. It offers a safety net when the airline can’t assist,” Machiri points out. But, she warns to be sure to understand your policy in terms of what is included or excluded. “It’s vital to understand what your travel insurance policy covers, how to claim and who to contact,” she says.
- Who is responsible for what?
In the unlikely event a travel service provider fails to deliver as promised, your travel expert can step in to seek refunds or rebooking on your behalf. Available refunds or remedies ultimately depend on the provider’s policies, terms & conditions and capacity to re-accommodate your travel.
In insurance cases, your insurance provider will need to liaise with you directly and you’ll need to submit any claims to insurance yourself. But that doesn’t mean your travel agent can’t help. They’ll be able to share any supporting documentation required for an insurance claim, such as flight tickets, accommodation vouchers and travel booking invoices. As Machiri reminds us: “Travel agents are incredibly experienced in these sorts of stressful situations and will always advocate on your behalf. However, they’re not miracle workers in that they can command the fog to disappear, the airline to refund you or fork out the cash themselves to charter a plane to get you home (even if they wish they could!).
Should I really use a travel agent?
When faced with hairy situations, a travel agent becomes an invaluable ally. They can liaise with airlines on your behalf, taking the hassle out of trying to work out who to call, waiting on hold for hours with a customer care line, rebooking flights and accommodations.
“Travel agents facilitate the booking of travel products on your behalf with travel providers, such as the airline, hotel or tour operator. Immediate solutions aren’t always possible, but having a reputable travel expert in your corner who knows what to do can ease the stress tenfold.”
The peak holiday season demands careful preparation and a cool head in a crisis. By partnering with reputable travel experts like Flight Centre and staying informed, you can enjoy a smooth silly season holiday – even if you find yourself temporarily caught in a snowstorm.