The Travel Adviser: Live and learn and learn again

What costs over $10,000, is an escape in the middle of the night and leads to an encounter with unsavory characters?

emirates plane 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
emirates plane 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
What costs over $10,000, is an escape in the middle of the night and leads to an encounter with unsavory characters? Our heroine of the story comes with a bit of backgroud – her father helped unseat an Israeli prime minister and a steamy tale follows thus.
As is often the case in our highly tense environment, the desire to escape overseas can be overwhelming. When Tova contacted our office in the spring it was the sincere belief that she could book an inexpensive ticket for her teen daughter to attend summer camp in the United States. Diligently reviewing all the options, she chose with her travel consultant’s sage advice, to purchase a United Airlines ticket to Chicago. Documents were reviewed, payment was made and all was merry. The bliss was short lived as the mother was in the midst of a messy divorce and the husband appeared to use his daughter as bait to receive some monetary compensation.
Truly believing her soon to be ex-husband would stop their own daughter from leaving the country, the mother decided that summer camp in the Midwest was not to be.
She thought to outsmart her recalcitrant spouse and let her daughter fly out a few hours earlier. To double her odds of escaping unscathed, she decided to join her daughter and fly as well. Going to the courts to stop someone from leaving the country is sadly a fairly easy process in Israel.
Any attorney worth his salt can request such a fiat on the flimsiest of accusations, ranging from a debt owed to claiming the parent is trying to relocate the minor abroad. Rarely refused and with the paucity of ports, the passenger is stopped at the airport until a court hearing can be held. Crude, but very effective.
However, so that the daughter should not be made to suffer, it was decided to add a visit to the “Happiest Place on Earth” – Disneyworld in Orlando, Florida. Now mother and daughter could find some solace as they traipsed through the Magic Kingdom.
Instead of United Airlines into Newark, new tickets were issued on Delta to JFK & later down to Orlando. Tova wanted to close every detail in Israel. Rental cars & hotels were discussed in great detail. She wanted a large car with automatic drive. Her travel consultant noted that in the US, renting a manual shift car was near impossible so an automatic car wouldn’t be a problem.
Keep in mind that in principle, renting a car abroad is less expensive then renting the same car in the US locally.
The large chains, such as Hertz, Avis or Alamo tend to have lower rates abroad, designed for tourists, undercutting what is sold on their site to US citizens. Overseas clients are told though that to rent a car they must present an international drivers license as well as an international credit card. It should be noted though that it’s worth exploring some of the cheaper rental sites such as Enterprise or Rent-a-Wreck.
She didn’t want a hotel property inside Disney as the cost was prohibitive and with hundreds of motels dotted around the parks, it was suggested that she choose one of the chains, assuming that their level of cleanliness wouldn’t be an issue. Thus, a Quality Inn was selected and a double room with two twin beds was reserved.
After much give and take, she finalized the rest of her trip and remembered to arrange health insurance. Not so surprisingly, she had no credit card to make payment as her bank account had been frozen. Her mother was supportive throughout and elected to front her money until her cash flow crisis could be resolved. In enquiring how she would rent the car without a credit card, she rejoined that a new bank account had been opened and on the day of her flight the card would be at her branch. She was cutting it close, but her travel consultant knew he had done all that was possible.
Or so he thought.
At 3:30 in the morning text messages starting buzzing incessantly. Tova seemed to have had an epiphany that her ex had discovered their change of departure and, rather than risk another day in Israel and the possibility that she would not be allowed to leave, she and her dutiful daughter made a mad dash to the airport hoping they could fly 24 hours earlier. Out of luck, the sympathetic Delta airline representative informed the forlorn ladies; not a seat was to be had.
Hanging around the gate in the hope that two seats would open up, was not to be.
The flight was completely sold out and thus the fervent requests to get them out of the country immediately could not be realized.
At this stage she reached out to her travel consultant.
So far, Tova had purchased three tickets and canceled those same three tickets. The next flight in the morning was to Newark on United Airlines, but her rental car was reserved for a pick up at JFK. Not to worry she said, her uncle would pick them up in Newark and drive them to Alamo in JFK.
When reminded that she would require a credit card, she assured her agent that her uncle was a seasoned traveler and that she would pressure Alamo to using his credit card as a guarantee.
Exhausted and sleep deprived, the ladies embarked on United Airlines and landed in Newark later that day. Her uncle collected the slightly refreshed duo and drove them over to the Alamo lot outside JFK. Tova reported that it was a cold and uninviting locale and that the clerks were uncaring of her plight. They refused point blank to add him as a second driver and would not let him use his credit card as a guarantee. He did offer Tova the use of his car while they were in New York; so other than a colossal waste of time, it did work out.
Somehow she arranged for her Israeli credit card to be couriered to the US and the following week when she flew down to Orlando, her rental car was picked up as planned.
Trying to use the GPS she had preordered to locate her Quality Inn hotel in Orlando was a daunting challenge. She missed the off ramps, couldn’t find the exact street and tried several times to phone the property only to be given less than clear instructions.
She was adamant that the room would be adjacent to the parking lot as she had no desire to traverse a darkened property by herself together with her daughter. Two hours later as the sun set in Orlando she pulled into the property. Meeting a friendly wino in the lobby who offered her a swig from her bottle did little to calm her nerves.
Being shown the room she had a fit. Reeking of smoke and with threadbare sheets, she asked for another room only to be told the hotel had no other rooms to offer.
Fortunately, she had stopped along the way at another hotel to ask directions, and while the room rate was 50 percent more than what she had planned on paying, elected to leave the hotel immediately and head to a more welcoming property. Calling her travel consultant once more in the wee hours, she was told there would be no cancelation fee and that her report would be submitted in full.
The rest of her stay went off without a hitch, the flights back to Newark and then to Tel Aviv were humdrum, or at least not worthy of intervention from her travel consultant.
In concluding, one can say that Tova was indeed being tested. One would not want to wish her trials and tribulations on anyone.
Did she really have a stop order forbidding her to take her daughter out of the country? We never got the answer to that but with all she went through, I can only hope it was worth it.
The writer is the CEO of Ziontours Jerusalem For questions & comments, email him at [email protected]