Bangkok, We Have a Problem

4 12 2008

 

Watching the recent news of the demonstrations at Bangkok’s airports, it’s hard not to feel sorry for those stranded and desperately trying to get home. Although most of us dream of forever lying beneath a palm tree without any plan to return home, the reality is a great deal of stress and frustration and probably a lot of unexpected cost.lax3-mw

 

The recent events in Thailand were unusual. People are occasionally delayed because of inclement weather, industrial action or disasters but rarely for as long as Thailand’s recent interruption. However, if it happens to you, what can you do?

 

When an airline’s flights are cancelled, they generally re-book you on their first available flight whether that’s later the same day, the next morning or a week later. If you’re lucky, they may re-book you on a partner airline that will get you home or to your destination a bit quicker. However, when thousands of people are affected across several airlines, it takes a long time for the back-log to be cleared by which time you’re likely sick of Pina Coladas and completely over the smell of coconut oil.

 

Contacting your airline just to find out what’s happening can be an ordeal in itself, especially in another language or in a country with a limited infrastructure. Of course, if the cause of your frustration is labour strife, there won’t be anyone for you to speak to at all! And, given the number of people in the same situation as yourself, you may well find yourself sleeping on the airport floor for a few days because hotel rooms will be precious commodities…especially affordable ones.

 

It is in situations like this that travel agents come into their own. Agents can check availability with all airlines, via indirect routes or from all airports within a reasonable distance – not just that from which you were originally scheduled to travel. They can advise you of your airline’s re-protection or refund policy or start to investigate your insurance coverage…they can also assist you with hotel reservations or transport to other airports. In some cases they may have a local contact who can help you on the ground, or they themselves may have first-hand experience of the city and be able to offer you some useful advice.

 

Although major disruptions of the magnitude of Thailand’s are very unusual, being able to actually speak to a calm, concerned and helpful friend at home can go a long way to relieving your burden of stress and help you feel less alone if ever similarly stuck. Of course, your agent may demand a box of chocolate-covered macadamias or a snow-globe of a frolicking dolphin, but that’s a small price to pay for a friend-in-need!

 

 

Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan

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How To Avoid Getting Stranded

22 09 2008

“If it’s a desert island, why wasn’t he called ‘Man Sundae?”  (Cape Tribulation, Queensland, Australia) 

For most of my life I rather fancied being stranded on a sun-drenched white sand desert island, but only if it included a few umbrella’d drinks, a bountiful supply of food, a comfortable bed, a fan wallah and a way to get home whenever I became bored. Realistically, it’s not likely to happen unless my private yacht runs aground on Sir Richard Branson’s Necker Island just after he’s re-stocked and left for several months abroad.

 

However, the possibility of becoming stranded overseas is a real one on the rare occasion when airlines or tour operators become bankrupt. And unlike Man Friday and Benn Gunn, there’s little romantic about it when it happens to you even if it’s in some idyllic bliss.

 

Although you can not be 100% safe, there certainly are precautions you can take to minimise the chances of being a modern-day Robinson Crusoe…except without the straw hat and talking volleyball.

 

1)     Perform a little due-diligence into your airline or tour operator. A quick internet search should find out the organisation’s background and basics of its financial or labour situation. A search for news stories should give you a hint if something’s not right.

 

2)     Book through a travel agency. Not only are travel agencies covered by government-mandated travel compensation funds in many places, but people in the industry have an ear to the ground and often hear about financial problems or instability before anything makes it to the press or the public. In addition, your travel agent can assist you to re-book your trip or to get you home in the quickest and most economical manner if the worst happens.

 

3)     Pay by credit card. Most credit card companies will still refund your payment if a company goes bankrupt before you have received your goods or services. If you pay by cash, you don’t have that protection.

 

4)     Check insurance. Some insurance companies include coverage if your travel provider goes bankrupt before you travel or will assist you if you are stranded away from home. Have your travel agent advise you on any available protection.

 

 

Given the hundreds of airlines, charter companies and tour operators throughout the world, bankruptcies are still very rare. However, since vacations are still great luxuries for most of us and something that we work very hard to be able to afford, choose very carefully, and eagerly anticipate, the more we can do to avoid a life experience as trying as Madonna’s “Swept Away”, the better!

 

 

Photo and post by:  Simon Vaughan