Couple reconsiders cruise as Middle East war continues | ET REALITY

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After two pandemic-related delays, we were finally ready to take a $34,309 Nile cruise with Viking, departing October 25 and including several days in Cairo and additional excursions to Jerusalem and Petra, Jordan. . But war broke out and the Middle East is very unstable. Viking canceled our tour to Jerusalem, refunded that money, and rebooked our flights for October 29th. But we also don’t think Egypt or Jordan are particularly safe right now, especially for Jews. We are older, heartbroken at not seeing Jerusalem, and terrified at the thought of being attacked as American Jewish tourists during this war. Viking still has $29,435 of our money. We just want a voucher to take the same trip in the future. Can you help? Joseph and Antonia, Oakland, California.

Each traveler calculates risk in their own way, often through a combination of personal experiences, news and emotions. So it’s no surprise that you’re not the only one worried about traveling now: in recent weeks, many consumers in online discussion forums They have echoed your concerns.

This is also a high-risk issue for the travel industry, and it is not an isolated case to travel to countries surrounding Israel. Wildfires, earthquakes and, of course, the pandemic have disrupted travel in recent years, and people are often afraid of traveling near natural disasters and man-made emergencies. But does the fact that you fear for your safety require a tour operator to give you your money back?

I emailed Viking on your behalf on the morning of October 24th. Three hours later, she received a $29,435 credit toward a future cruise, valid as long as she books within 12 months.

Was this a coincidence? I honestly don’t know, as Viking did not respond to my initial email or numerous other requests for comment.

But the credit represented a radical change by the company, whose responses to his repeated previous email inquiries had included mostly boilerplate language. “We completely understand his concern and are sorry for his disappointment,” Viking wrote in a response. “You should know that the safety of our guests and crew is our top priority.” They also told him they are “working closely with our global network to understand the situation first-hand” and “stand prepared to make any future adjustments as necessary.”

To paraphrase: “You’re out of luck.”

You made more progress over the phone after receiving these rejections. On Saturday, October 21, as he told me, a “senior customer service specialist” said he would check with management and get back to you the following Monday. She didn’t, but finally responded saying that she would try again. The next day I wrote.

Whether it was her, me, or both, the fact that Viking rejected her initial requests should come as no surprise. There is only conflicting evidence that traveling to Egypt or Jordan could be more dangerous than when she booked.

Yes, last month the State Department issued a “Global caution“Note that travelers should be alert to “the potential for terrorist attacks, demonstrations or violent actions against American citizens and interests,” but that is not specific to the Middle East, North Africa or any destination. More relevantly, the embassy of United States in Cairo issued a “Demo Alert”, warning that protests, “potentially including anti-American sentiments, may occur in Cairo or elsewhere in Egypt.”

But despite the possibility of demonstrations, the fact that Egypt has a border with Israel does not necessarily equate to danger throughout the country. Sudan, Egypt’s southern neighbor, has been at war for six months, which has not seriously affected Egyptian tourism. And the State Department, which assigns danger levels from Level 1 (“Exercise normal precautions”) to Level 4 (“Do not travel”), had labeled Egypt Level 3 (“Reconsider travel”) in 2020, long before that Israel- Hamas War. Jordan, its other destination, remains at level 2, on par with France and Peru.

So while it may be obvious to you that traveling to Egypt is too dangerous right now, it’s not obvious to the State Department or companies like Intrepid Travel. Matt Berna, Intrepid’s president of the Americas, told me that the company did not cancel or modify its trips to Egypt (and Jordan) due to feedback from ground staff. “We have operations teams that work with hotels,” he said, “and group leaders at the tourist sites and on the streets with the groups. They feel what is happening every day” and report back to country offices. However, a Level 4 warning from the State Department would take precedence over that, he said.

Travelers like you are in a difficult position when your risk assessment differs from that of the company you booked with. Even for those with travel insurance, geopolitical events are generally excluded from coverage; only a “cancel for any reason” policy would cover such a disruption.

“The consumer is faced with this uncomfortable choice of going on a trip and being too afraid or not going on a trip and losing money,” said Jeffrey Ment, a travel industry attorney who has answered “probably 100” related client inquiries. since the war began.

But the companies he represents are also in a bind, he stressed, because, although we travelers rarely think about it, they have already spent some or even most of what we have paid them. “Follow the money,” she said. “Maybe you’ve gone from a travel company to a cruise line, or from a cruise line to a fuel, food, staff, or entertainment provider. And those other companies are not returning the money, because travel to Egypt is open and open.”

“Viking or anyone else cannot be forced to refund money they don’t have for free,” he added.

Well, you can’t force them, but sometimes you can beg them.

Mr. Berna told me that Intrepid’s internal policy does leave room for this. “While we don’t publicly announce free changes or cancellations,” he said, “if someone calls and feels like they’re not going to have a pleasant trip, a safe trip, then we allow them to change.” to a different date in the same region” or even a future credit.

Or, as Mr. Ment told me when I asked him to evaluate Viking’s decision to grant him credit: “It’s common practice. The squeaky wheel wins.”

Fortunately, there are plenty of squeaking aids available to travelers, even beyond writing to trippedup@nytimes.com. (I welcome all travel-related complaints, although my ability to complain about refunds in the Middle East probably doesn’t extend beyond this column.) Reviews can be posted online and more formal complaints can be registered through the Better Business Bureau and Elliott Defense, both non-profit organizations. Your state attorney general’s offices are used to hiring travel companies (although state laws vary), and you can ask your credit card to issue a chargeback request, as long as you’re ready to come and go. with them. for months.

Still, everyone should start with a personal complaint: calling or writing to companies yourself, trying (patiently and politely) to work your way up the customer service ladder to someone who has the power to make an exception.

If you need advice on the best travel plan gone wrong, email TrippedUp@nytimes.com.


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