Four weeks ago, I stood shocked, unsettled and saddened by London Heathrow's departures board. There were exactly seven flights departing from one of the world's busiest airports, on a Sunday evening.
I was one of approximately ten passengers flying from London to Munich as the Coronavirus epidemic ramped up and the world began to shut down.
I never thought I would say this, but I'm actually starting to miss some of the in-flight things that typically annoy me -- the people who are incapable of putting a number and a letter together to locate their assigned seat, those who linger in the aisles when everyone is trying to board, the mouth breathers, the fidgetters, the chatters (who insist on talking to you, even when when you're wearing headphones), even the crying babies. Okay, I lie, I'm not at all missing the crying babies.
28-days into quarantine and every single one of my 2020 travel plans have systematically unraveled. I've spent countless hours undoing all my meticulous planning. I've had to request refunds from hotels, airlines, tour and car hire companies, restaurants and airport transfers, for the following trips:
13th - 15th March: Tirana, Albania
20th - 27th March: London, UK
2nd - 6th April: Georgia & Armenia
10th - 13th April: Reykjavik, Iceland
16th - 20th April: Western Romania Road Trip
24th - 26th April: Madeira, Portugal
1st - 3rd May: Leeds, UK
5th - 10th May: Bulgaria Road Trip, with a stopover in London
16th - 25th May: Germany, Austria and Czech Republic Road Trip
28th May - 1st June: London, UK
19th - 22nd June: Corfu, Greece
24th - 26th July: London, UK
In general, companies have been accommodating with cancellations, apart from the airlines. They have been difficult to deal with and keep trying to weasel their way out refunding people for flights they are cancelling, which, by the way, is illegal in the EU. I have dealt with nine different airlines so far and I can confirm they are not all equally terrible. Lufthansa has been, by far, the worst and British Airways has been the best in terms of speedy refunds and friendly customer service.
The option to reschedule or get a voucher is quite easy, but refund options have been eliminated or buried deep within websites. The way I see it, the landscape is too uncertain to reschedule for later in the year and why would I want a voucher for an airline that may or may not even be in business much longer?
If you want a refund, you must call and it's nearly impossible to get through to customer service, due to higher than normal call volumes. Some automated systems hang up on you unless your flight is in the next 48 hours, leaving you no option to speak with a representative. Things are even more difficult if you were unlucky enough to have booked through a third party (Opodo, Dream World Travel, Expedia, etc.), rather than direct.
The last time I have been flightless for this amount of time was three years ago, as I convalesced from my accident. I feel like a bird whose flight feathers have been clipped and is grounded until the plumage becomes intact again, which could range anywhere from several months, up to a year.
I worry how humanity and travel will be impacted long-term. Will travel surge after people stay-at-home orders are lifted or will people rethink things and only take meaningful trips? Will work travel be re-evaluated and limited, once work from home requirements are lifted, because people realize that face-to-face meetings aren't as necessary as they were once thought to be? How long will curfews and social gathering bans stick around for? How will accommodation, food and beverage services, recreation and entertainment, transportation and travel services be impacted? Will travel insurance policies be amended to specifically exclude pandemics moving forward? Will COVID-19 testing upon entry be required in most countries? Will visitors be required to quarantine upon arrival in certain destinations. Will certificates of immunity be required (once there is a vaccination)? Will visas be stricter or more relaxed? Will travel prices rise or fall as a result?
A lot remains to be seen, but I personally can not wait for my wings to regrow and to start putting mileage on my tiny green shoes again.
Stay safe, healthy and sane!!