The COVID-19 pandemic has hit travel agents hard.
From the moment the virus began to impede the free movement of people, Australian travel agents began repatriating their clients, as well as rescheduling, rebooking, cancelling, amending and postponing their travel arrangements.
On top of all of that, they've been chasing refunds, credits and monies owed to their clients and suppliers.
We've already shared some incredible stories that describe the lengths that ATAS accredited travel agents went to bring their clients home safely. As we researched those stories we learned that, behind the scenes, many travel agents were working around the clock to help stranded travellers who were not even their clients.
With a deep understanding of the complexities of international travel, and an informed view of the fluid situation unfolding before them, these passionate travel professionals couldn't help but help.
As the scale of the pandemic and its impact on travellers became clear, Carolyn Burgmann took decisive action.
Bowen Mountain-based Carolyn, a personal travel manager from ATAS-accredited TravelManagers, reached out to travellers via her Facebook page, offering assistance to any who were struggling to get home. An existing client quickly responded, putting her in touch with acquaintances who were having difficulty returning from a curtailed cruise holiday in Europe.
TravelManager Carolyn in Waimea Canyon, Kauai Hawaii
Their holiday was to be a double celebration of a landmark year—a 35th wedding anniversary and a 60th birthday.
Originally scheduled to disembark in Genoa, their cruise was terminated in Lisbon. After a few angst-filled days confined to their cabin, the cruise line announced that a charter flight had been arranged to London.
"We were escorted onto coaches by police with automatic weapons, and advised we could not take any photos. At the airport, there was no immigration process—we were driven straight onto the tarmac and ordered onto the plane," says one of the travellers, Angela.
Once in London, the party had to make arrangements to return to Australia, securing flights with Qantas departing a few days later. However, when Qantas emailed their flight confirmations, there was a problem.
"The only confirmation from Qantas that came through was for my flight," recalls Angela. They spent the entire next day trying to contact Qantas in the UK, listening to a recorded message advising of delays getting through of up to 6 hours.
"Family members in Australia tried to get through to Qantas, too. The phone lines were in meltdown, and the online record of our booking only showed one name: mine," she says.
Finally, Angela's daughter reached out to friends in Australia for advice. One suggested contacting Carolyn.
Carolyn swung into action, looked into the booking, and very quickly was able to reassure Angela's daughter that all names were, in fact, in the booking on what was to be the last flight out of Heathrow.
"By the time they called me to help sort it out, they had been trying to get through to Qantas for more information for almost two days,” adds Carolyn.
By leveraging her access to the Qantas Agency Support line, Carolyn was quickly able to establish that all three passengers were confirmed on the flight but in separate bookings. In 30-minutes, her professional connections had resolved something that had frustrated the travellers for two days.
With Carolyn's screen shots confirming their booking status, they were able to relax for the first time in days. They were soon on their way home.
"It was an emotional flight for many of the crew as it was their final flight due to Covid. We flew from Heathrow all the way to Darwin, stopped to refuel—we were not allowed off the plane—then on to Sydney. We were home and the Qantas Captain played Australia Home and many cried with emotion," says Angela.
After emerging from their quarantine two weeks later, the grateful travellers sent Carolyn a hamper brimming with Easter treats. And, perhaps not surprisingly, responded positively to her good-natured suggestion that they consider booking through a travel agent next time.
For Carolyn's colleague Cassandra Zayonce, it was a traveller who had made his own travel arrangements online that needed rescuing. Without Cassandra's intervention, professional insights and advice, he would very likely have found himself stuck in Laos.
Reflecting on what transpired, Cassandra notes, "There was very little in it financially for me. but I couldn’t just leave him stranded. Even if it meant a very sleepless night for me, and a lot of work!"
Cassandra had stepped in to help another colleague who was flat out assisting clients navigate the ever-changing situation. This colleague had been contacted by someone called Rebecca whose friend, Joel, was stuck overseas. Joel was stranded in Laos as his flight out had cancelled. He managed to book another flight but, with the airport departures board awash with red 'cancelled' notifications, he wasn't confident of getting away.
Stepping in to help, Cassandra contacted Rebecca, made contact with Joel, worked through his options, and quickly established that his airline would, in fact, uplift him to Bangkok that night. This was welcome news, but there were other impediments looming.
"I had received an update earlier in the day that stated Thailand was placing restrictions on transit passengers with immediate effect. Those restrictions would affect Joel's plans," says Cassandra.
Those restrictions required all passengers to have a medical certificate and at least US$100,000 in medical coverage from a travel insurer who would cover for Covid-19. Armed with the information Cassandra had supplied, Joel was able to find a medical clinic in Vientiane and secure the appropriate paperwork. Meanwhile, Cassandra arranged a comprehensive travel insurance policy with the required medical cover and, just to be sure, held a seat on another airline from Vientiane as a back-up.
"It felt like every country in the region was closing its borders even to travellers in transit. Even though Joel now had all the documentation required by the tightened regulations, I had a sleepless night worrying about it," says Cassandra.
The next day, Joel contacted Cassandra with the news that he had arrived in Bangkok. He described the chaotic check-in in Vientiane that saw perhaps half of all ticket-holders denied boarding as they didn't have the correct documentation.
"I’ve been on a couple of flights with hairy landings where people cheered after safely touching down. This was the first flight I’ve been on where people cheered as we lifted off," Joel recalls.
Joel's flight to Sydney was scheduled to depart quite late from Bangkok, and Cassandra waited until her flight tracking technology confirmed it was in the air and made the necessary changes to his connecting domestic flight to Brisbane, only then calling it a day.
"I travel overseas one or two times a year for holidays and usually organise my own flights and itineraries," says Joel.
"However, Cassandra’s help has highlighted to me the value of having a travel agent in your corner, and I will be using her services in future when the world opens up again. Without Casandra’s help I could very likely still be stuck in Laos five months later unable to work and burning through my savings," he adds.
ATAS accredited travel professionals like Carolyn and Cassandra deliver great value, professional advice and the support you need before, during and after your travels.
Only the very best travel agencies in Australia bear the ATAS insignia.
Attaining ATAS accreditation is a significant achievement for any Australian travel agent. ATAS accredited travel agents have successfully completed a rigorous application process, and must meet the strictest criteria. Furthermore, they must maintain these standards of professionalism to retain their ATAS accreditation.
ATAS accredited travel agents are required to comply with Australian Consumer Law and operate their business in accordance with the ATAS Charter and Code of Conduct.
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