Linda Coneybeare’s first job of the day March 17 was to try to get a stranded cruise ship traveller back from Perth, Australia.
The Transat Travel agent has seen it all; 9/11, SARS, but says the current coronavirus-COVID-19 is the worst she has ever seen from a travel agent perspective.
“’Til two weeks ago, it was just a little blip. We were still booking south and Europe, although not Asia. Then, it just started to quietly get bigger and bigger. All of a sudden, really on Thursday, when U.S. President Donald Trump made his announcement, it just unravelled,” Coneybeare told The Highlander.
She was out of the office March 13 but said colleague Linda Goodick started to take care of her and Coneybeare’s clients needing to fly home early. She said on March 16, she worked until 10:30 p.m. and then went home exhausted.
“When you have a local travel agent, you can reach them, no seven hours wait on the phone, no dropped calls,” she said.
She said Transat Travel had clients “literally all over the world.” She said they were helping to get some of them home. Others had self-isolated in safe locations.
In the case of the client now in Perth, they were on an around-theworld cruise that is not going any further than the Western Australia port. Coneybeare was trying to get her home as quickly as possible.
Despite the scrambling, she said people who book trips with them have security, since they all have good policies in effect. Bookings are being held as future credit for travel before the end of 2020. Others with certain types of extended insurance are getting 75-80 per cent of their money back.
She said some emergency flights back are proving expensive, since airlines are compensating for flying unfilled aircraft.
While the majority of their work these days is getting people home, or dealing with cancelled trips, Coneybeare said some people have booked future trips.
“People are looking forward to the future knowing this will pass,” she said.
She wouldn’t recommend travel right now, however, saying Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is advising people abroad to come home. She added while some destinations might seem safe, such as the Caribbean, people still have to go through at-risk airports.
She’s been in the business 40 years and says, “this is the biggest. After 9/11, all flights were grounded but within two months, I was rebooking, things moved on. The difference right now is getting people home and sorting out their bookings.”
She said for the most part, the public understands that tour operators simply can’t give them back their money. However, she said Transat Travel keeps it in trust for future travel. She said it’s the difference when booking with a reputable company such as hers, that also has bricks and mortar on Haliburton’s main street.
Once the immediate crisis passes, she said they’ll start doing their in-house accounting. “Our jobs are safe. And we will wait this out. It will pass.”