Anatomy of a trip

My main tip for those going the self-catering route is to make sure that cleaning is included in the price or can be added.

Travel agency in Jerusalem (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Travel agency in Jerusalem
Anatomy of a Murder is the name of a Hollywood film starring such luminaries as James Stewart, George C. Scott, Lee Remick and Eve Arden, based on a bestselling novel written by a Michigan Supreme Court Justice. Film historians claim it is one of the first mainstream Hollywood films to address rape in graphic terms. With a musical score by Duke Ellington, it has been described as one of the finest pure trial movies ever made. Film aficionados will remember that the defense of the character charged with murder was based on an irresistible impulse.
This type of impulse no doubt was the impetus for the Abramson family and their improbable travel saga as we attempt to decipher an anatomy of a trip.
The Abramson clan is new to Israel, having made aliya a few short years ago. The husband and wife and four young children, like so many before them, made a conscious decision to be a part of the State of Israel.
Like many successful new immigrants, Mr. Abramson – let’s call him Bob – kept his practice alive and thriving with the help of supportive partners and by frequent flights to and from the US.
After a discussion with his travel consultant, he chose to put his money and his flight mileage with United Airlines. A slew of bookings were made on United Airlines, who quickly bumped him up to an elite frequent flier. The journeys began in February 2015. More often than not he’d fly out on a Sunday and the following Thursday would head back to Israel. Month after month, this continued with the entire family joining him for summer in the US. Bob, by nature an inquisitive person, would listen to his fellow passengers as they sat in the UA lounges discussing taking a vacation in Europe. Since all of their family vacations had taken place in the US, the idea of a week somewhere in Europe on the way to the US began to percolate in his mind.
I always recommend when planning a family vacation to try to get as many of the family members involved. Far wiser when hearing the whining of long lines or humid weather to be able to remind them, that they shared in the process, too. With Bob’s eldest 14 years young, she could give some input as to whether she fancied a city break exploring the catacombs of Rome, or perhaps his wife might want to stroll the streets of London. Choosing a family-friendly holiday one should keep the following in mind: The weather poser: Many may love brilliant sunshine and scorching sands, but neither one is exactly ideal for small children who tend to burn, wilt and dehydrate far more quickly than adults. If you do chose an island or a beach resort, make sure you’ve got plenty of sun protection.
The getting there conundrum: There’s nothing quite so glorious as getting on a plane and in one nonstop flight arriving at your final destination. Sadly, the list of most people’s desired vacation locales usually entails more than one flight or a lengthy car or train ride to reach Nirvana.
The food and culture quandary: All that different and interesting stuff that attracts us grown-ups to a different culture doesn’t necessarily do it for a child.
You should, of course, prepare your children for the newness of the foreign site, although small children will only grasp the difference when they set foot.
The lodging dilemma: Self-catering is one option.
It’s usually my male married customers who raise the issue of a holiday cottage, an Airbnb apartment or a guesthouse with a fully equipped kitchen. Lovely as it would be not to have to lift a frying pan while you’re away, self-catering villas are actually a pretty good pick for family holidays – especially if your kids aren’t old enough to be in a separate hotel room. If you’ve got little ones who go to bed early, a rented apartment should have enough space for the older kids and adults to have some quiet time when once they’re asleep.
My main tip for those going the self-catering route is to make sure that cleaning is included in the price or can be added.
Hotels have the upside of no washing up, no shopping, no cooking, no making the bed or cleaning up the bath. It will most likely have a free swimming pool.
However even the most family-oriented properties rarely have rooms large enough to accommodate more than four guests, so the economics of taking a suite or two adjoining rooms will leave quite a dent in one’s holiday budget.
Before you do book the hotel, you also need to find out how family-friendly the hotel is. What time do they serve meals? Can children eat earlier in the evening? Are there any childcare facilities? Is there a babysitting service available? The idea of paying extra for someone to look after your offspring for a few hours a day while you’re on a family holiday has both its proponents and detractors. I’ve been asked why they would be going on holiday if not to look after their kids themselves, while the other hand, they complain that their kids would never leave their side. Conversely, the chance to be with other kids their own age and give you some down time has a great appeal to many travelers.
Bob, with his wife and family, spent a lengthy time researching options before deciding that a week in Nice in a rented apartment for the six of them would be their summer holiday. The next step was deciding how to fly the family from Tel Aviv to Nice and then to New York for the rest of the summer.
One could fly Air France via Paris to Nice then fly nonstop on Delta from Nice to JFK. Then at end of their US vacation, they would fly Delta back from JFK. One could do so at a hefty price of more than $2,000 per person.
Another alternative would be to take an EL AL charter to Nice and a one-way flight from Nice to New York coupled with an EL AL flight from New York back to Israel. That would set them back more than $2,300 per person. What to do? How to find one airline, or one airline alliance that would permit all three cities of Tel Aviv, Nice and New York for a reasonable price? The answer was simple. It permitted a free stop in Nice, had a sterling reputation for service and security and allowed two checked bags per person – meaning they could schlep and shop to their hearts’ content never worrying about an excess baggage fee. It had the bonus of being part of the Star Alliance network so Bob could even earn miles on them with his UA frequent flier number.
It was in early March, months before the summer seats sell out, that Bob plunked down his hard-earned money at a savings of more than $500 per person and purchased Turkish Air flights for the entire family. It would mean flying from Tel Aviv to Nice via Istanbul, and from Nice to New York via Istanbul and back to Tel Aviv via Istanbul, but the savings for the six of them meant the stopover in Nice was almost paid for.
Then came the Perfect Storm – the trifecta of tragedies, the signs that everything that could go wrong would.
The initial seeds of doubt came with the June 29 terrorist attack on the airport in Istanbul that killed more than 41 people. Like thousands of other potential passengers, Bob and his family were deeply concerned about the safety issue. Patiently walking him through the differences of transiting an airport in which the entry thereof consists of many more layers of security, he accepted the explanations, felt confident that any lapses in the Turkish security would be fixed immediately.
It was a mere two weeks later when the July 14 terrorist attack on the promenade in Nice left 84 dead, followed the very next day by the attempted coup in Turkey that shattered the veneer of Bob’s family’s calm.
Strident emails were sent beseeching some type of a solution, praying against odds that Turkish Airlines would scrap any cancellation fees. Hopes were raised that perhaps the Turkish government, feeling bruised by the refusal of the United States to extradite without any legal process a radical cleric living in the US, leading to a cessation of flights between the two countries.
The US Federal Aviation Administration banned all airlines, regardless of the country of origin, from flying into the US from Turkey. Time moved very slowly those first two days after the coup was quashed. Travel agents and distressed flyers were unclear how long the pandemonium would last. Turkish Airlines, to its credit, announced a policy that anyone flying in the next 96 hours could cancel or delay their trip without any penalty whatsoever. Those clients fortunate enough to have purchased tickets through a travel agent were painlessly moved to other airlines during those 96 hours of controlled chaos.
Bob’s trip, though, was scheduled a few weeks later.
Would mayhem be maintained so that Bob’s trip could be salvaged without a financial loss in the thousands? Unfortunately it was not to be. Only mere hours after the FAA lifted its warning about planes flying over the skies of Turkey, a soaring and sanctimonious press release was sent echoing a nationalist call that would be the envy of Donald Trump: “The national flag carrier of Turkey, Turkish Airlines, united with all of the heroic and honorable Turkish people in extraordinary efforts, played an important role in terminating the malevolent illegal attempt on the evening of July 15, 2016.
“The three-month state of emergency declared by our President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is an action called in order to enable the Republic of Turkey take all necessary precautions. All state and government authorities have also confirmed that it is a precautionary action to protect the country from all possible threats; maintain all democratic rights and the continuation of all basic rights and freedoms.
“In due course, all Turkish Airlines operations and flights are proceeding uninterrupted and will continue to do so. As Turkey’s flag carrier that flies to more countries than any other airline, serving 290 destinations in 116 nations across the globe; Turkish Airlines as it has until today, will continue to make the world closer for all its passengers around the world with the supreme flight experience.”
Ah, crisis averted, leaving one with a warm and fuzzy feeling that all would now be right with the world. And Bob, poor Bob, wracked with guilt that his irresistible impulse to provide his kids with a different type of vacation threw in the towel, and throwing caution to the winds is at this very exact time sunning himself and his family in Nice. May he have a safe and wonderful journey and may no harm come to him or his family.
The writer is the CEO of Ziontours, Jerusalem. For questions and comments email him at