Since worldwide travel is still on hold, I obviously don’t have many interesting current experiences to talk about. If you’re looking for some things you can do now at home check out one of my posts about staying inspired from home or tips to prepare for future travel. I thought this would be a good time to update everyone on our current situation and how our travel plans are playing out.
A few months ago, we made the decision that we would return to the United States this summer. With so much up in the air, no summer job security and the future of our program in question, we thought it would be in our best interest to head home after our contract is finished on June 30th. Travel during COVID-19 has already proven to be extremely difficult, and I’ll tell you why.
Start of the pandemic
Many other Americans who were in our teaching program decided to leave Spain back in March, when schools were first shut down. We wanted to wait it out and see if they would open back up. Also, we were still being paid to do some work at home and it seemed uncertain if we’d continue to be paid if we left. Not to mention, we came here to live in Spain, so we wanted to continue doing that as long as we could and see it though.
After coming to this decision back in April, we booked a flight home for the beginning of July. Given the fact that we have our whole lives to pack back up and move, we needed an airline that would allow us several checked bags and flexibility for dates and times as we knew many flights were being canceled.
I ended up finding the best deal through a third-party travel booking website, so I booked the flight for both of us and purchased an additional package that would allow us to switch the dates with the help of their customer service team for no fees or additional costs. It felt like we were being as careful and safe as possible.
The headache of dealing with airlines
I had already had to deal with several other airlines since the beginning of the pandemic. We booked a trip to Italy and Greece for the week of Easter break from school. This was one of my most complex and thoroughly planned trips ever. We were going to travel to four different cities by plane, train and even a ferry ride to one of the Greek islands.
Of course, I was forced to cancel everything for this trip. One of the flights, from Rome to Athens, I was able to get a refund for because it was canceled very early on in the COVID situation. I think perhaps at this point, all hell hadn’t broken lose yet, so it was much easier to work with them and I got my refund in a few days. I also received a full refund from all Airbnbs that I booked. The rest of the cancelations were not as successful, however.
I tried for months to get a refund on our flight from Athens to Madrid, which was the most expensive flight of the entire trip. The airline kept giving me the runaround (which I later found to be a theme for other airlines) to avoid giving me a refund.
They would send me a voucher for future use and said that if I wanted a refund, I would have to file a claim on their website and wait until the coronavirus situation is over to receive it. Since I wasn’t exactly sure what they meant by when the coronavirus situation is over, I just decided to keep the voucher as it is a European airline and I know I will use it in the future.
This theme continued with another airline we booked with. Again, I accepted the voucher to use later because this flight was fairly cheap. I was disappointed, though, with a few of the train journeys we booked in Italy being non-refundable. This seemed wildly unfair as it was against the law for me to even enter that country at the time of the ticket date. We ended up never getting a refund for those.
As you can see, we had our fair share of COVID related issues early on in the pandemic. At this point, we began to get worried about the status of our flight home. I decided to do a little research to check on our flight back to the States and I found articles stating that the airline we booked with canceled all transatlantic flights several months ago… WHAT?! We never received any notification from the travel agency or the airline that our flight was canceled.
Obviously we were in a bit of a panic, so we tried continuously to contact the travel agency as they were supposed to help us get a new flight in this situation. When we called, the automated message said everyone was busy and the line hung up. When we emailed, a customer service rep would tell us to call. No matter how many times we told them it was impossible, we just kept going around in circles.
For several weeks, this went on. Eventually, we had to book a new flight home without any resolution on the canceled one. We were uncertain how much the prices would skyrocket in the coming weeks as more flights were going to be canceled. We continued to contact the travel agency through email and attempted to call everyday.
Finally, we had the idea to just go straight to the airline and see if we could accomplish anything that way. The airline responded to our message on Facebook, oddly enough. They confirmed that our flight was indeed canceled (gee, thanks for that) and we could get a voucher or a refund. We definitely wanted the refund on this one because we paid over 800 euros including our extra checked bag fees.
The only issue with this was that we paid for the flight with our Spanish bank account, which we will need to close when we leave. The airline told us they will only refund the money to the same account we used to pay. Even when things seem to finally be getting somewhere, we run into more issues.
Now we’re all caught up to our current state. We’re waiting for the refund and we’re prepared to just keep our account open and hope we’re able to close it over the phone or email after we get back to the States. For now, the second flight we booked is still on, although this airline cancels several of their flights to our destination every day. I will keep everyone updated on our situation as it progresses.
I plan to write about our experience flying home, hoping everything works out and we are able to take the flight we have booked now. I think it will be a good expectation of what flying will look like moving forward.
I suppose the moral of the story is, even once you think it’s okay to travel again or if you need to go somewhere out of necessity, be extra proactive and be prepared to run into these kinds of problems. Purchase any travel insurance you can and be sure to learn from our mistakes.
Airlines are losing a lot of money and even though it’s hurting their customers, they are very reluctant to issue refunds, but it is absolutely against the law for them to refuse you a refund if a flight is canceled. Know your rights and good luck everyone!