Saturday, May 15, 2010

Michelle Styles: The Road Less Travelled

As some of you will know, the unprecedented flooding in Nashville earlier this month has caused the Romantic Writers of America's conference to be moved to WDW Swan and Dolphin Hotel in Orlando Florida. The literacy signing will now take place on 28 July from 5:30 - 7:30 pm at one of the main meeting areas. (The list of authors who will be signing their books should be up in the next week or so!)
All kudos to the RWA staff who managed to get the conference moved.
The problem for me in the UK was that because of other things happening in the world, my travel agent had not heard of the flooding and didn't understand what was going on. (In fact the floods were only really reported in the Times yesterday!) I was informed that it would not be possible to move my non refundable ticket and in fact it is never done. They were very sympathetic but...there were rules.
Needless to say on 6 May, I was in tears, particularly as I could not afford another ticket and it looked like the travel insurance would not pay. But I hadn't become a published author by giving up at the first hurdle. I phoned the airline --American Airlines -- and asked. AA were brilliant. They said -- not a problem, a policy was in place and I would be covered. However, because I was travelling from overseas, it would have to go through my travel agent and if they didn't know how to do it, they should release the booking so AA could make the change. With reservations booked through travel agents, airlines can only make changes once the travel begins.
I phoned the travel agency again. This time I was told I was a stupid woman who knew nothing about the travel industry and that the airline was lying. I told them to check. The supervisor phoned back and said he had but no dice. I phoned AA again and spoke to a lovely woman who said that she would put a note on my file and to tell the travel agent to check my file. I phoned the travel agent again. He looked, saw the words Natural Disaster and said he'd get back to me either that night or the next morning. Eventually, it did get sorted...
I do get to go to the ball as it were. And if anyone happens to be at the literacy signing, please stop by and say hello!
So what did I learn:
1. When there is a major disaster, the airlines do put a policy in place and are able to do one time flight or destination changes for free IF you have proof that the reason for travel has changed. For example in this case, I no longer had any reason for going to Nashville but needed to get to Orlando. The RWA were brilliant about providing the proof. In Britain, this is covered through various codes of conduct. Disinclination to travel is something different.
2. Travel insurance is only really good for personal travel problems -- for example if a close relative dies or becomes ill, medical emergencies, rather than for major travel disasters. Major ones are covered above.
3. Do not attempt to go off piste and make your own travel arrangements once you hit a snag as you might not be covered. Allow the airline to solve the problem. They have insurance for this sort of thing.
4. Be persistent. Do not be fobbed off when you know it is not right. Ask to speak to managers, rather than front line staff. Keep a record of the person you spoke with.
5. Only using part of a ticket is no good. The minute you do not show up for a flight, you are classified as a no show and all of the rest of your ticket is cancelled. This is why I actually had to change the ticket and not just use two thirds and buy another ticket. Apparently this practice can cause huge problems for around the world travellers.
6. If someone doesn't phone you back, phone them. In my case, I waited because the RWA did formally inform the airline on the Monday of the problem. It turned out the supervisor had done the change on the Thursday but became ill and forgot to put any notes in my file, so it wasn't until the Tuesday I found out that it was sorted.

I will be complaining to the travel agency's head office and despite having used them since 1985 for long haul flights, I won't be using them again. Service counts.

And as a final note: when I went to the Sinai in March, there were problems with the airport's computer system and we didn't get our meals on the flight out as we were not seated in rows which had prebooked meals. It wasn't a big deal but as I was writing to the tour company to praise their staff in Egypt, I mentioned it. They took it seriously. The airline, Thomsons has apologised and refunded the cost of 4 meals, plus added a good will voucher to be used in the future. I know I will be using Classic Collections in the future because their service is so good.

Michelle Styles's latest UK release is Compromising Miss Milton and her latest NA release is An Impulsive Debutante. Both of which involved holidays -- Victorian style. Her latest Australian release is a 3 in 1 and includes The Viking's Captive Princess, Compromising Miss Milton and A Question of Impropriety.


Caroline said...

It's great to hear this Michelle! Too many times the "little" people don't get heard as these big companies think they are so much better than us. Have a great conference. Caroline x

Michelle Styles said...

Caroline --
I just read in the Sunday Times that a number of the budget airlines were acting contrary to the law over the Icelandic volcano. Basically with EU based travel, there are certain standards which must be ahered to, including the right to rebook.

If this post helps give someone the courage to question, then it is to the good.

Mary said...

I'm so glad that you didn't give up, you go girl!

But this is just one more reason why I refuse to fly ever again. I used to watch that show that was on cable called Airline...or some such thing. And they showed people getting bumped, stranded with nothing to help them out, passengers stranded on the planes for hours and even days. Gives me nightmares just things about it.

My husband went from Las Vegas to Los Angeles..a 65 minute flight and the plane had a problem and was stuck at the airport for 7 hours. Just ridiculous.

Amanda Ashby said...

Michelle - I'm so pleased you managed to get it sorted and I'm SOOOOO pleased that you won't be using that agency again. There is nothing I hate more than being lied to - if someone doesn't know the facts then they should check, but if you had taken them at their word you wouldn't have your trip and would be majorly out of pocket. That is unacceptable!

Amanda Ashby said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Michele L. said...

I don't like flying anymore because it is such a hassle. We are always the lucky ones who get picked to be searched. Jumbled luggage, shoes to take off, belts are taken off, etc. We just drive when we go on vacation.

I am glad you all got your messes straightened out and got them resolved. We have had our luggage lost and didn't receive it back until a couple weeks later. Not fun!