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Travel Plans Thwarted Due to Unrest? Here’s What You Can Do

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The army took to the streets as riots broke out in Santiago, Chile, this past week.

Photo by abriendomundo/Shutterstock

The army took to the streets as riots broke out in Santiago, Chile, this past week.

As protests and civil unrest take hold in Hong Kong, Spain, Chile, and Lebanon, travelers may be wondering what actions they can take if they find themselves impacted. These ideas could help.

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As protests have broken out in several countries around the world, travelers may be wondering how they will be impacted—and what they can do if they are.

So, what exactly is happening? In short, a lot.

Demonstrations that were sparked by a subway fare increase (which Chilean president Sebastián Piñera has since rescinded) turned violent in Chile over the weekend. Civil unrest broke out in Barcelona last week after separatist politicians were sentenced to prison. Anti-government protests are escalating in Beirut and cities throughout Lebanon. And hundreds of thousands of pro-democracy protesters took to the streets yet again on Sunday in Hong Kong following a week of relative calm.

Unfortunately, incidents such as these can make travel to the affected destinations unpredictable. Flight delays and cancellations can crop up at the last minute, and travelers may feel uncertain about whether or not they should proceed with their plans.

Here are some actionable steps travelers can take to cope with the challenges that may arise.

Check in with your airline

In the face of unrest, airlines will often waive flight change and cancellation fees in order to encourage travelers to proactively alter their plans. This policy helps the carriers alleviate some of the inevitable backlog of customers who will need to be rebooked or refunded.

Contact your hotel, tour operator, or cruise line

Similar to the airlines, most reputable hotels and travel companies will allow travelers to rebook (at no cost to the customer) due to large-scale events beyond their control. Most of the time, these rebooking policies are as much an attempt to maintain a percentage of business as they are an opportunity to simply do right by the customer.

Events such as massive protests tend to scare away both business and leisure travelers who either don’t want to get mixed up in an uncertain situation or are worried that the event will linger on and potentially cause further travel disruptions. Consequently, a percentage of travelers with upcoming trips to the impacted destination will choose to either cancel their trip entirely, book travel elsewhere, or at least hold off on the destination in question until a later date. What results is a rapid and often economically painful decline in travel to the locale in question.

In an effort to salvage whatever business they can, travel companies typically roll out generous rebooking policies.

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Know that travel insurance can help, to a degree

It’s important to note that once an incident has started, it’s too late to buy travel insurance to cover that particular circumstance.

Nevertheless, these events serve as an important reminder about the potential benefits of buying travel insurance well in advance of a trip. Travelers who purchased a policy prior to any kind of protest or unrest could be covered by several possible benefits. For instance, many policies cover flight delays that exceed three hours. Some policies will refund travelers for portions of their missed trip if cancelled flights caused them to miss half or more of their planned travels. And some policies will provide coverage to travelers who miss a cruise or tour because of an extreme flight delay.

Those with upcoming trips to destinations where there is unrest would likely be able to cancel their trip and be reimbursed for most of it if they purchased “cancel for any reason” coverage in advance—an optional upgrade that can often be added to travel insurance policies, for a price. It typically increases the cost of travel insurance by about 40 percent, according to travel insurance search site Squaremouth.

But according to Kate Doty​, managing director of Geographic Expeditions and an AFAR travel advisory committee member, it’s well worth the upgrade. Geographic Expeditions recommends that all of its travelers consider trip cancellation insurance.

Consult with your credit card company

Many credit cards provide travel insurance for delayed or cancelled flights that were booked using that card. This can also include coverage of hotel reservations when flights are severely delayed or cancelled, as well as compensation for lost luggage. Every card’s protection plan is different, so be sure to read the fine print; cards like Chase’s Sapphire Reserve or Delta American Express Platinum offer decent coverage for those who can provide ample proof of their delayed flight with relevant receipts.

Look to travel advisors to assist

For people who are in a destination away from home when such situations arise, working with a reputable travel advisor or travel company that has reliable contacts on the ground is critical, according to William Kiburz, vice president of Coronet Travel and an AFAR travel advisory committee member. He noted that smaller, more intimate operations can be better at keeping track of and taking care of displaced clients than larger travel companies working with numerous impacted travelers.

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“We have a different person in each country who specializes in that country and is located in that country,” said Kiburz.

For Kiburz, the recipe to success in times of crisis is simple: Have a trusted assistant or travel advisor; make sure you have a travel advisor’s and/or ground operator’s cell phone number programmed into your phone so you can reach out when you need to; and, yes, have some travel insurance.

Use technology to multitask

In the case of major flight delays or cancellations, there are likely going to be long lines of people waiting to speak with airline agents at the airport. While in line, use your mobile device to get on social media and reach out to your airline’s Twitter or Facebook team with any questions or concerns you might have about the status of your flight. You can also get online to search for alternate flights. Jump on the phone, as well, to try to speak to an agent that way; you may reach someone who may be able to assist you faster than the overwhelmed agents at the airport.

Hit the lounge

If you have elite status with your airline, head to the airport lounge to wait out delayed and cancelled flights in comfort. Some travel credit cards, like Chase’s Sapphire Reserve, also offer cardholders a Priority Pass Select membership that grants access to more than 1,200 airport lounges around the world. In addition to providing a more comfortable place to wait for your delayed or rescheduled flight, airport lounges can be a better place to deal with travel dilemmas: Inside the lounges, airport employees and agents might have more time and flexibility to assist with rebooking flights because, in theory, there are fewer customers waiting to be helped. For fliers without elite status, check to see if there is an option to buy a daily pass at the lounge entrance.  

Of course, airport lounge passes won’t help much if the delays or cancellations require an overnight stay or go on for more than a day. But when you’re stuck, a chance for a slightly more comfortable chair, upgraded service, and even just better snacks, can make all the difference.

This article originally appeared on August 13, 2019. It was updated on October 21, 2019, to reflect current information. Additional reporting provided by Ramsey Qubein.

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