It was back on January 15, 2009, when the world witnessed the “Miracle on the Hudson.’’ This was when Captain Chesley Sullenberger glided his disabled plane onto the frigid waters of the Hudson River, saving the lives of all 155 passengers aboard. Sully, has he was known, was anointed a hero by both the press and the public. Even the obligatory investigation could not tarnish his reputation. Leaving aside all the back-seat drivers, the main explanation was quite simple: his instincts stepped up and all of his years of training came to the forefront.
I’m sure that those in the medical field can attest that while under extreme duress, their training takes over and inevitably the correct path is chosen. From my knowledge, this is similar to a fight-or-flight response, also called hyper-arousal. This acute stress response is a physiological reaction to a harmful event. In medical prose, the adrenal medulla produces a hormonal cascade that results in the secretion of catecholamine. Bottom line: humans are wired how to react to stress.
To paraphrase Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone, there is a fifth dimension, beyond that which is known to man. It is in the middle ground between light and shadow and it lies between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge. It is an area which I call The Traveler’s Zone.
There is no shortage of industry leaders in the travel business – builders and disrupters, visionaries and creators. Many exist in Israel. This travel professional with over 30 years’ experience had built up a strong business, a loyal base and a first-class staff who were trained in his belief that The Customer Is Always Right. Designed to deal with every possible emergency that could transpire, he and his staff developed nerves of steel and no matter what was thrown at them strived to find a palatable solution.
Like all travel agencies, we find that the most challenging request is when a passenger receives information that a loved one has been injured or died and that no matter how many mountains must be moved, he or she must be on the first available flight.
Agent training includes developing skills for handling these worst-case scenarios. Consumers, too should be prepared before embarking upon any trip.
• Health insurance: Always have your insurance policy or card with you. Inquire about what coverage you have internationally. All policies have a trip cancellation element to the basic policy along with hospitalization and loss or theft of personal items.
• Medevac insurance: Medevac means “Medical Evacuation,” or quite simply, air ambulance. This could range from chartering a special jet with medical personal to bring you back from wherever you are to the nearest county with decent medical care or your home country. Or simply reimbursing you for the change in your original ticket when you altered your original ticket’s date
• Important phone numbers: If you’re using a travel agency, make sure you have their 24/7 emergency phone number. If you purchased your tickets online, make sure you know the local number of that airline in the country you’re visiting.
• Carry money wisely: Carrying all of your money in one wallet can wreak havoc on your trip if the wallet is lost or stolen. Spread out your money, both on your person and in your bags. Furthermore, try to have multiple financial resources available. For example, a sage traveler might take cash for most ordinary purchases, keep an AMT or debit card for cash withdrawals and carry a credit card for emergencies or to buy airline tickets.
The seasoned traveler makes sure to do five basic things:
1. Purchase travel insurance
2. Make copies of all travel documents, including your passport and visa. Pack a hard copy in your luggage, scan one to your mobile device and leave a copy at home
3. Leave contact numbers and a copy of your itinerary with someone at home
4. Create a list of emergency contact numbers to take with you
5. Let your credit card company or bank know your travel plans in case you need to make a large charge or wire funds
This wizened travel professional was fortunate to have both of his octogenarian parents celebrating their birthdays in the same week.
Living thousands of miles away, their joint celebrations made a weeklong trip to the West Coast of the US a pleasant distraction from his high-pressured job. His wife, while battling a long-term illness, would not be able to make the journey, but with his offspring ready and willing to assist with any emergencies on the home front, he boarded the El Al flight convinced that he’d have a tranquil visit.
The El Al flight was uneventful, and while breathlessly awaiting for the days a Boeing 787 would fly the skies to L.A., he slept soundly, rented a car and drove to his parents abode, there to be greeted warmly. His wife’s body, though, had other plans, and each day he was in L.A., her digestive system reduced its functionality. The deterioration was so rapid that a CT on Wednesday showed a perforation and emergency surgery was advised. Not just advised, but throwing caution to the wind, the surgeon at 11:33 p.m. announced that it was a matter of life and death and that surgery must commence that night.
It’s all in the training. At 11:34 p.m., his daughter was on Whatsapp with her father relating that the issue was very serious and that he had better come home ASAP. At 11:36 p.m. he had concluded his purchase on Turkish Air and was in the process of sending her a copy of the ticket.
120 seconds is all it took for his mind to grasp the situation, know that there was no El Al flight that day and he would need to purchase a new ticket. He realized that the other airlines from the West Coast, be it United or Delta, BA or Lufthansa, only departed later that night. With the 10-hour time difference, he intuitively knew that Turkish Airlines, with a 6:30 p.m. L.A. departure time, was the first airline that would get him back into Tel Aviv.
He went online, made the reservation, provided the credit card details and had the ticket issued. Two minutes was all it took this seasoned professional to solve his own crisis.
Throwing his suitcase in his rental car, he made it to LAX two hours after his daughter told him that he should come home. Flying from the West Coast with a stop is not a pleasant trip. No matter how you cut it, 18 hours of your life is taken away from you. Worse is knowing that when you board the flight at LAX it will be 13 hours until you land in Istanbul and know the outcome of the surgery.
Taxiing down the Istanbul runway, he received the information that while the perforation couldn’t be closed, his wife had survived the three-hour surgery. Landing in Tel Aviv past midnight, he hailed a cab and by 1:30 a.m. joined his children and wife at the hospital.
When you live abroad, far away from your parents or children, you need to take the time to know first and foremost when planes depart. Take New York, for example. Several airlines fly to the Big Apple late at night, notably EL Al, United and Delta. Many more airlines, primarily European ones, depart early the next morning. With the seven-hour time difference, it’s easy to calculate the local time of arrival.
What’s more difficult is when you’re not sure of the return date. The person you’re flying in for may be in an irreversible coma and the doctors or close family members may tell you it’s only a matter of hours. Don’t bet the farm on it. Don’t decide that you’ll spend shiva there and buy a return date. Neither should you throw caution to the wind and buy an open ticket, which is outrageously expensive.
Breathe deeply, take 120 seconds and make an educated decision. Insist on knowing what the change fee will be if you have to change it. Conversely, never purchase a nonrefundable ticket.
The death of a family member while you’re in the midst of your vacation plays out differently. Not only are you potentially far away from home and emotionally distraught, but you’re also financially stressed by the prospect of losing out on you prepaid travel expenses.
Contact your airline or travel consultant to make the change in your ticket. If you purchased a nonrefundable ticket, most carriers will waive the change fee. Many hotels and resorts won’t offer immediate refunds on the spot and you’ll have to go through higher management to plead your case. However most reservations can be canceled, albeit with only the forfeit of a deposit with 24 to 48 hours’ notice to the hotel.
Expect an uphill battle with any travel refund process. Stay adamant and be prepared to fight the good fight. Trust your instinct to the end. As Lord Byron said: “There is no instinct like that of the heart.”The writer is the CEO of Ziontours, Jerusalem. For questions and comments email him at [email protected]