Travel Advisor: Approaching the daze of judgment
Whenever possible, put your name in writing, put your dates in writing and for everyone’s sake put your changes in writing.
El-Al passengers waiting to board flight Photo: Sukree Sukplang/Reuters
We are at the commencement of the Jewish New Year, celebrating a holiday Rosh
Hashana, which is not even mentioned in the Torah.
In fact the first
known reference describes the New Year as the “Day of Judgment.” Further
readings states that three books are opened on Rosh Hashana, where the fate of
the wicked, the righteous and those of an intermediate class are
We can all predict the next step. The names of the righteous
are immediately inscribed in the “Book of Life,” while the wicked are blotted
out of the book of living forever. It’s the intermediate class who are allowed a
respite of 10 days, until Yom Kippur, to reflect, repent and become righteous,
that is the focus of my contemplation.
More often than not I tackle the
airlines, sometimes with caustic criticism bordering on condescension, other
times praising them for actions going above & beyond the call of duty. Less
often do I condemn that intermediate class, that purveyor of information, that
link between the airline and the consumer – the travel consultant.
Dr. Varon wrote to me recently, his main puzzlement was over the reticence of
his daughter’s travel agent to give a simple answer to an easy question: What
would it cost to change her return? First off, it should be noted that while
Varon did email me, his form of communication with Sarah was verbal, which led
to misunderstandings on both parts.
His daughter, Noa, the epitome of our
Israeli youth, had finished her army duty and been selected by the Jewish Agency
to be a counselor at a summer Camp in the US Like hundreds of Israeli youth,
whom are sent as messengers to these camps, where they spend the summer with
their contemporaries, hopefully setting an example of what makes this country so
Noa had spent close to two months there, and rather than return
from Chicago was curious about discovering the US, and returning from a
different city. Her father, savvy to the fact that her ticket permitted one free
change, did not object and agreed to fire the first salvo.
consultant, gainfully employed for dozens of years by one of the largest travel
agencies in Israel, with branches through the country, was responsible for
flying hundreds of Israelis this summer to the camps. Wisely putting out
bids amongst the different airlines, she elected to send the larger percentage
of the flyers using a combination of United and Lufthansa. Good airlines, both,
with destinations in dozens of cities, allowing counselors to get to almost any
of the camps sprinkled through the United States.
Varon politely asked if
she could return from Orlando. No doubt Noa desired to spend some time in the
Magic Kingdom, reliving her childhood in the house that Walt built. Sorry he was
told, she can come back from many cities, but Orlando isn’t one of them. No
problem, Noa said – I’ll head west, see the Grand Canyon and dip my toes in that
den of iniquity, Las Vegas.
Calling Sarah again, he was rebuffed, “No,
Las Vegas isn’t on the list.” At this stage he emailed me, asking if I thought
it was some type of con that the agent was pulling. He knew Noa was permitted to
change her return date for free and had been told that it could be done from a
variety of cities, but twice was rebuffed. My advice was short and to the point:
E-mail her immediately, asking for a list of cities that she could fly back from
to Israel from with no additional charge.
E-mail her he did, and she said
she would prepare a list in a day or so. No matter, the weekend passed and on
Sunday came a list of a dozen cities. Curiously, when contacted, United Airlines
confirmed that this special group rate that had been arranged for the counselors
did indeed have a limit on which cities could be changed for “free.”
the naïf, decided she did want to return from Orlando, so again my sage advice
was short: ask what it would cost to return from Orlando. Again, it took a few
days and the princely sum of $89 was proffered.
You’d think that would
satisfy everyone but this tale of deception had just begun. For Sarah, the
stressed travel agent reissued Noa’s ticket to come back from Chicago on her
“new” dates. For free, of course, and without asking the good Doctor. When told
that this was not what they had asked for, Sarah sheepishly replied not to worry
and she could still change her ticket.
At this stage Varon and his wife,
chose to fly to Madrid in late September and a new thought began to percolate.
Perhaps Sarah could get Noa to fly back via Europe and join her parents? Yes,
they knew it would cost, but as United had joined Lufthansa, surely a stop could
be made in Europe?
First reply from the travel agent was an emphatic “no!” Again
with a bit of nudging, she contacted the airline who said, in fact, that Noa
could stop in Germany for an extra $203. They would need to purchase an
additional ticket from Frankfurt to Madrid and back, but fares inside Europe are
quite reasonable and an opportunity to spend five days with your 22-year-old
daughter should not be dismissed so quickly.
Varon was told by Sarah that
$303 was the price, which surprisingly, was $100 more than what United had said.
Pressing her for a breakdown of the fees, Varon was denied. All of this was done
by phone, when in all truthfulness it should have been put in
When for the third time I was contacted, it was quite clear to
me that the travel agent was simply putting the change fee on the client’s
account. So Varon accused her of such and rather than admitting her error, Sarah
chose the path of denial and deception, in fact telling him where he could
go. All she had to do was own up to her culpability and I’d like to
believe that Varon would have split the change fee with her.
advice, I told him to contact United Airlines directly, pay them whatever they
requested – including the $100 change fee – and get his daughter’s ticket
reissued before she ended up stranded in the US. Happy to oblige their customer,
they made the change, charged his card and sent him back the new electronic
Upon receipt, he finally put in writing his complaints and wrote
to the manager of the agency. Hemming and hawing they pointed out that they only
made an $80 profit on her ticket and that while they completely agree that they
made the mistake, asked if he would accept $80 back.
Yes, this agency,
with over 100 years in the travel business, tried to keep $20 to avoid any loss.
How Varon replied is not fit for this paper, but by the time Rosh Hashana
arrives, the $100 will be in his account.
The lesson of this saga is
first and foremost: Whenever possible, put your requests in writing. Put
your name in writing, put your dates in writing and for everyone’s sake put your
changes in writing. Almost every incident I’ve been asked to adjudicate stems
from misunderstandings over the phone.
The pen is mightier than the
sword, and makes reflecting and repenting much easier for the aggrieved party.
May the coming year result in everyone inscribed in the Book of
Mark Feldman is the CEO of Ziontours Jerusalem. For questions &
comments, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org