| April 12
April 12 Jocelyn Floyd was waiting with her kids
at the airport in Springfield, Illinois, for a flight to Florida
in March when the fun spring break trip was replaced with
jarring news: not only was the flight canceled, but the carrier
had suspended operations.
Floyd was among thousands of passengers of Myrtle Beach,
South Carolina-based Direct Air - a charter service with
regularly scheduled flights to 17 cities - whose vacation plans
were roiled when the carrier abruptly shut down on March 13. Two
days later, Direct Air's parent company, Southern Sky Air &
Tours Llc filed for bankruptcy protection.
Floyd's unexpected stranding highlights just how precarious
travel plans can be as families and young people across the
United States gear up for warm-weather vacations. And with many
consumers still struggling financially, more importance is given
to winning the future business of people who plan vacations.
"The last thing they would want was a customer to leave
dissatisfied; then they wouldn't have them coming back when the
economy improved," says Joseph A. McInerney, president and CEO
of the American Hotel and Lodging Association.
Hotels and resorts stepped up their spending on training in
the second half of 2011, he says, indicating a continued
commitment to trying to please guests.
During the toughest economic times over the past several
years, the hospitality industry realized that bad experiences
for customers could take on larger importance - like losing
business down the road, not only at one hotel, but at an entire
"They (consumers) have more choices. If they have a bad
experience with you in 2009, in 2010 they might go to a
different brand," McInerney said.
Beyond just customer service, for those readying for summer
vacations, National Consumers League Vice President John
Breyault urges consumers to take a deep breath before buying
into something that seems to be a great deal..
Brochures and websites can make even a rickety old ship look
like a luxury cruise liner. That means doing your "due
diligence," Breyault said, by not relying on references provided
to you, but ones you find on your own.
Among other things, consumers should check the Better
Business Bureau site and comments posted to travel review sites
to establish what can reasonably be expected. It makes sense,
given the cost of vacations, to be extra careful.
"These are fairly high dollar products you're buying
basically sight unseen," Breyault said.
College students, in particular, can be vulnerable to the
over-hyped vacation package. Once one or two have roped in, it's
easy for a group mentality to take over and have others sign on
without doing any checking. Some packages come loaded with fine
print that have led to some very unpleasant surprises.
"We've heard horror stories from kids who get these deals to
go to Cancun, for example," Breyault added.
In the Cancun situation, Breyault said the resort was
nothing like expected, so the vacationers decided to leave. But
the terms of the deal required them to stay at the resort and
they forfeit their return trip, stranding them in Mexico.
In addition to always doing research before booking a trip,
Breyault urges consumers to always use a credit card to pay so
they have an intermediary help them recover what has been lost.
Consumers planning a particularly costly trip should also
consider trip insurance.
Christopher Elliott, a consumer advocate and ombudsman for
National Geographic Traveler, cautions that it is imperative to
know what is and isn't covered in a policy, since terms can vary
widely. An inexpensive policy could have a lot of exclusions,
while a "Cancel for Any Reason Policy," which offers extra
leeway, could add well over 10 percent to the cost of a trip.
Normally, consumers have 60 days after receiving a credit
card bill to initiate a dispute on an erroneous charge. Even if
the purchase was made earlier than that, there might be some
hope in cases where there was something more than an error, said
attorney Edgar Dworsky, who runs the ConsumerWorld.org website.
"Consumers will have the best chance at getting a refund by
writing to their credit card issuer and requesting a charge-back
for the portion of their airfare that was not honored," he said.
But that's not money that comes immediately, making it a
hard pill to swallow for consumers, especially for people who
thought they were doing the right thing by planning vacations in
Floyd is going through her credit card company to try to
recoup $676 in lost airfare and make the best of the ruined
Calls made by Reuters to Direct Air went to a recorded
announcement saying their offices were closed and callers were
directed to the company website for more information. The
website suggested consumers go to their credit card companies to
try to obtain refunds and also read the guidance put out by the
U.S. Department of Transportation that includes the contact
information to make claims against Direct Air's bond and escrow.
"It has been disappointing," Floyd said.
To replace the visit to Florida, she decided to take her
kids to Chicago to see her brother and his family and then tour
colleges in Missouri.
"I made lemonade out of my lemons," she added. "I'm showing
my children that we can make the best out of a bad situation."
(Editing by Beth Pinsker Gladstone and Andre Grenon)