If you’re struggling and fighting to change and cancel travel plans due to the coronavirus (COVID 19) outbreak, you’re not alone. These unprecedented circumstances are bringing out the best and worst of companies in the travel industry as customers attempt to cancel travel and make decisions that are critical to the safety and wellbeing of travelers and locals alike.
I have been in my own whirlwind of trying to cancel travel plans during the coronavirus outbreak. The story has become so appalling and frustrating that I decided to write about it to keep track of every hoop these companies are putting me through. I’m sure one day I will look back on all of this and laugh, but for now, the true colors of certain travel companies are certainly ugly.
The latest update will always be at the top. To read my story from the beginning, scroll all the way to the bottom.
Updates: Canceling our travel during the coronavirus outbreak
March 22, 2020: Capital One to the Rescue
With all the emails I received from different companies, like Blue Lagoon, Guinness Storehouse, etc., letting me know that they’ve refunded us I decided to check my credit card to confirm everything had posted.
WHAT IS THIS?? I see a “Purchase Adjustment” for the exact amount of our Icelandair flight. It’s not a refund from Icelandair directly. Capital One took care of this for me. But they didn’t stop there. They also provided an interest charge adjustment since I bought this flight back in October, 2019.
I’m truly blown away. Capital One has a customer for life.
I’m going to end my story here, folks. The only vendors I haven’t heard from are Ryanair and Booking.com. Those costs were minimal compared to other. And right now I’m so incredibly thankful to Capital One that I’m willing to let the rest go. I know we all have way more pressing things to deal with than travel pains.
March 21, 2020: Oh, cool
I haven’t heard back from when I called Booking.com, so I decided to message he hotel directly. I’m waiting on a response back.
We woke up to an alert saying our return flight from Dublin to Seattle was canceled. Yes, we woke up at 10am. Don’t judge us. There are no rules during quarantine!
Surely Icelandair will provide a refund now that flights have been canceled, right?!?!
Ha.. haha.. of course not. They’ve flagged us as a no-show and even put a note on our booking number that we were “notified of the COVID 19 policy.” We were notified of the policy and encouraged to change our flight online, however, there was no option under our reservation to make the change because Icelandair didn’t respond to our messages until we were less than 24 hours away from our flight. Their chat agent assured us that we would be able to change the flight even though we are under 24 hours. That agent was wrong and then never responded to our chats again.
March 20, 2020: Meh
I got a response back from the Washington State Attorney General saying my complaint was determined appropriate for their office and that they will take action. The process could take 4-6 weeks, and if Icelandair doesn’t respond or doesn’t resolve the issue then there is really nothing more they can do.
We tried. I’ll let you know if anything comes of this channel.
March 19, 2020: Signs of Hope
I’ve received email notifications from Blue Lagoon, Adventure Viking, and Guinness Storehouse letting me know that they’ve refunded our tickets and tours.
We’ve yet to hear from Ryanair or Booking.com.
My husband receives a direct message on Twitter from Aer Lingus thanking him for his patience and confirming that we will get a refund for the flight. We are unsure if that means a full refund or only refunding the taxes. We are traumatized from Icelandair, so we are skeptical. I’ll let you know when we actually receive any payment.
March 18, 2020: Icelandair’s Split Personalities
My husband files a complaint with the US Department of Transportation. Because why not?
7:04 & 7:07am
This is interesting. Just a few minutes between each other, two emails land in my inbox. One stating that because we chose not to take our flight, it was automatically cancelled and voided for future use. The other is a confirmation that our matter has been forwarded to their refund department. Hmm…
I’m not going to include screenshots because they contain booking reference numbers, but below are direct quotes from the emails.
|As you c hose not to travel as booked your booking was automatically cancelled and voided for future use.
You had our Economy Light fare which is non refundable so we can only refund according to the fare rule, that is a partial refund of unused airport taxes. You will be notified via email when the payment has been processed.
|Dear Nicole Dinicola
|This is an automated reply
This is to confirm that we have forwarded your matter on to our refunds department, booking number #####.
Unfortunately we are experiencing high volume of inquires at the moment and we are working hard to keep our response time as short as possible. You will receive a confirmation once the refund has been processed.
We thank you for your patience in the meantime.
Icelandair posts on the Facebook page saying they are sorry, but can no longer answer messages on social media. What? No, who didn’t see this coming? I still try to message back on Facebook messenger, but I get an automated response saying as of March 18th, they are turing off social media messaging and are not responding to public comments on their posts. They also offer a link to a for that I need to fill out even if I’ve previously contacted them.
I got a message from Icelandair on Facebook messenger! They apologize for the delay and confirm that since I tried to contact them before my flight took off, that they will assist me with my reservation. I’m asleep at this time so I didn’t see it right away, but surely I can still reach out when I wake up? *foreshadowing*
March 17, 2020: St. Patrick’s Day with Social Distancing
We start our own little St. Patrick’s Day party at our house with just the two of us and our two dogs. We’re drinking Guinness and green beer, but we’re also heartbroken that we aren’t in Ireland right now.
I’m watching other cities that aren’t as impacted by the coronavirus as Seattle carry on with their St. Patrick’s Day celebrations and huge parties at restaurants and bars. I’m angry and jealous. I wish they would take this pandemic more seriously. Seattle is just a week or a few days ahead of the rest of the US.
Flowers were buy 1 get 1 free at the grocery story today. This is a happy change compared to all the photos we are seeing of empty shelves and people hoarding toilet paper. I buy two.
My husband attempts to contact Aer Lingus and Ryanair multiple times. Neither of their phone lines are taking calls nor are they responding to direct messages on Twitter or Facebook.
I wake up to an email from Booking.com asking me how my stay was in Iceland. Ouch. Way to pour salt in the wound. You know perfectly well that I did not stay there.
I also got an email from Aer Lingus with an excited “Only 2 days to go! Get ready for your flight!”. Ryanair also sends an email reminding me what size my carry-on bag can be. *audible eye roll*
March 16, 2020: Feeling Defeated
Elliot Advocacy got back to me saying that, unfortunately, they are not handling coronavirus-related travel issues at this time.
A friend of mine recommended I reach out to Elliot Advocacy and file a request. Elliot Advocacy is a nonprofit organization that offers free advice and fights for consumers. I filled out the form on their site, and I’m waiting for a response. I imagine they have many, many requests right now.
March 15, 2020: “Ignore and Avoid” as a CX strategy
I’ve filed a complaint with my state attorney general. I’ve tweeted my experience and posted it to facebook and instagram. I’m frustrated and exhausted and feeling defeated.
I finally get someone on the line, and I’m so angry from the conversation that it is difficult for me to type right now. I was told we will lose the entire cost of the flight. No refund or change or voucher. I was told that because the travel ban allows US citizens to return, there is no reason that I couldn’t still take the flight.
The agent told me I should have called to change my flight before it took off and that I had plenty of time to call in because they have 24/7 support. I almost lost it! We DID try to call before our flight. I’ve been trying to call in for 2 days! I constantly got their recorded message saying that they were unable to take calls.
I tried Twitter DMs, as recommended by Icelandair, and finally got a response there just a few hours before our flight. They said to change our flight on their website. I went to the website and there was no option to change. I went back to the DMs, and it has been radio silence there for over 24 hours.
The agent told me a refund wasn’t possible. But after I mentioned I knew someone who got a full refund (true) she asked for that person’s booking number so that she could add it to my file and forward to the refund department?!?! So it IS possible to get a refund, you just have to have a friend that somehow managed a refund??? This is insane!!!! I can’t get that person’s booking number because it’s super late on the east coast.
Also, booking numbers contain personal identifiable information (PII) and should never be handed out or posted publicly. I’m shocked they asked me for someone else’s booking number.
When I asked to be transferred to someone that handles escalations several times but was told those people don’t exist.
I am beyond angry and disgusted. If I hear “due to our policy we can’t…” one more time I am going to lose it. What policy could have possibly predicted what we are going through?? Do the human thing and change your policies.
Still on hold…
I GOT THROUGH! I randomly try to call Icelandair every now and then to see if I can get past the automated message, and it finally paid off. How long do you think I’ll be on hold?
I’ve sent several Twitter messages at this point, and I am getting zero response. I’ve tried calling several times but keep getting the same recorded message.
I switch companies and try to get in touch with Booking.com for a refund for our one night in Iceland. They’ve removed their chat function from the website, and I wasn’t able to find their phone number on the site either. A quick google search pulled it up: 1 (888) 850-3958.
After a 10 minute wait, I got through to an agent that said they will call the hotel in Iceland and ask for a refund. They plan to call in 6 hours when it is 9am in Iceland. I’m not very hopeful this route will work or that I will even hear back from Booking.com.
No new messages from Icelandair. My only option is to continue to try to reach them via Twitter messages. Every time I try to call their phone line, I receive an automated message saying the phone lines are busy, and they cannot take my call.
March 14, 2020: Icelandair Tensions Rise
Our flight took off at 3:30pm today. We still haven’t heard back from Icelandair. Maybe we’ll get more late night messages on Twitter.
We also haven’t heard from Aer Lingus, Ryanair, or Booking.com.
The evening local news airs. Below is the 2 minute segment about my experience with canceling travels during the coronavirus outbreak.
Local KING5 Seattle news contacts me about my travel dilemma and asks if they can interview me. Yes! Anything I can do to get more attention on this, I’m in.
At the suggestion of many friends and strangers across social media, I call the credit card company I used to book the Icelandair flight. The agent was warm and compassionate and filed a charge dispute for me with zero wait or hesitation. Thank you Capital One! Hopefully it goes somewhere if Icelandair fails to take any action.
There is nowhere to change my flight on their website. Are you surprised? I message them back. No response.
I take to Twitter, trying to get a response, any response. I also do some searching and realize I am definitely not alone. All Icelandair customers are struggling with support. This makes me feel a little better. Certainly they won’t leave thousands of customers hanging, right?
I am exhausted. Icelandair’s final advice is to change our flights to a later date online so that we don’t lose the entire cost of the tickets. Their official policy states you can only change flights up until 24 hours before a flight. Given that they didn’t respond to me until well after that timeframe, I ask the agent on Twitter and get a confirmation that I can, in fact, do this.
I’ll get to this in the morning. I can’t keep my eyes open any longer. I leave them with a question, searching for some empathy, and receive a cold response.
March 13, 2o2o: Radio Silence
We’ve made contact! It’s super late, and I’m already in bed, but I answer right away. I’m not losing their attention while I have it. Unfortunately, the conversation is less than helpful. Their response is robotic and recommends following their normal cancelation policy. These are not normal times!
If we cancel, we lose everything except the taxes paid. If we change the flight, they will waive the change fee, but we have to pay the fair difference and we must rebook before January 1st 2021.
No response. I message Icelandair again on Twitter–this time with more urgency since our flight is less than 24 hours away.
Guinness Storehouse announces that they are closing until March 29th, 2020 or until they receive further official advice. They are giving all ticket holders a full refund.
When I woke up, there were no emails from any airline or Booking.com. I attempt to call Icelandair again, but I get the same recorded message that they are unable to take my call due to the overflow of calls.
So, I move to Twitter to message the companies that still haven’t gotten back to me. Icelandair’s website even recommends this channel. Both me and my husband send messages in hopes that we’ll get a prompt response.
Our flight is only 30 hours away.
Overnight my husband received emails from the Blue Lagoon and Adventure Viking. The Blue Lagoon is offering us 90% of the total cost back or we can move our reservation and use the cost within the year. Adventure Viking cancels our excursion, full refund. Thank you!
March 12, 2020: Canceling Travel Begins
Time to call Marriott to get the points back for the hotels that we booked in Dublin and Edinburgh. Zero wait time on the phone, the most pleasant agent spoke with me on the phone, all rooms canceled and points returned in under 10 minutes. Bless you Marriott, bless your employees, and bless your incredible compassion during this coronavirus outbreak.
This is all I have time for today. I had to get back to work.
I’ve been waiting for the Booking.com chat to start for over an hour. We used them to book our 1 night room in Iceland. I finally decide to select “forward my message” to send my request.
While I was waiting, I canceled our rental car with Thrifty. No issues. Their rental cars can be canceled anytime before pick up.
My husband has brought me coffee, thank goodness, and gets started contacting all the activities we booked. He sends emails to Blue Lagoon, Adventure Viking, and Guinness Storehouse asking for refunds.
I move on to Aer Lingus and Ryanair. They both have convenient forms to fill out for a refund. I enter my details, describe the situation, and hit submit. Fingers crossed.
I’m hopeful Icelandair will be following suit with other major airlines and offering changes or refunds. I read their Peace of Mind policy and attempt to call Icelandair to move or change or refund our flights.
I get an automated response telling me that due to the high call volume, they are unable to take my call at this time. As an alternative, I fill out a form on their site and hope for a response.
I wake up and check the news headlines on my phone. “Ireland Partially Shuts Down as Virus Outbreak Worsens.” “Seattle bans events over 250 people.” “Seattle closes public schools.”
I shake my husband awake and tell him we need to start canceling travel. I text my boss and tell her a I need a few hours this morning to cancel our travel plans.
March 11, 2020: The Travel Ban
We learn the ban does not include the UK or Ireland and only applies to non US citizens. So technically if we leave, we would be able to get home. But worry levels are still dangerously high. We feel nervous about potentially missing out on an incredible trip and nervous about the health and safety of us and others.
We decide to sleep on it before making any decisions.
The US announces travel ban from European countries. We begin to feel very uncertain about our travel plans. There were more questions than answers after the announcement. Panic sets in.
March 9, 2020: Scotland Flight & Cancelations Begin
Ireland officials announce the St. Patrick’s Day parade in Dublin will be canceled due to the growing threat of the coronavirus. After attending this parade in 2013 and experience the crowds firsthand, I can see why this was one of the first large events to be canceled.
We were disappointed but not worried at this point. Ireland will still celebrate without the parade.
We waited a little too long to book the short flight from Dublin to Edinburgh for our weekend in Scotland, making this flight more expensive than we would have liked. To keep costs low, we booked Aer Lingus on the way there and Ryanair on the way back.
February 22, 2020: Rental Car & Activities
We rented a car with Thrifty for our 24 hours in Iceland. We planned to do a little road trip along the south of the island, touring Seljalandsfoss, Skógafoss, and Reynisfjara.
Being a month out from departure, we also booked the top activities we were dying to do that could potentially sell out: Blue Lagoon, Silfra Snorkeling with Adventure Viking, and Guinness Storehouse tour.
October 25, 2019: Travel booked
We purchased our flight from Seattle to Dublin on Icelandair with a 24-hour long layover in Reykjavik, Iceland and a quick weekend in Scotland. Take off March 14th 2020. Return March 22nd 2020. We were thrilled to spend St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland while also exploring Iceland and Scotland.