Traveling with an airline voucher might not be as simple as it sounds, so expect the unexpected.


By MARILYN ROBITAILLE


In spite of all the news of places experiencing another lockdown and more COVID turmoil, you might be ready to venture farther afield this summer, especially if you have flight credit just burning a hole in that online wallet.


Lots of people I know cancelled flights as the pandemic turned from a vague something far away to a full-blown smack-down of our “normal” way of life. Most airlines expanded refund and voucher policies to accommodate.

If you’re ready to commit to this summer’s travel options, you’ll find plenty of domestic and international tourist locations open and available; however, expect the unexpected, especially if you’re crossing international borders.


I have a cautionary tale about selecting a flight and using that voucher from a COVID-cancelled flight. Even what appears to be the most straight-forward process had glitches in the matrix.

Although the steps to paying with a voucher online, nicely explained in the airline’s help section, looked easy enough, I never could find a payment option that covered vouchers. Several flavors of credit card, PayPal, and some kind of “pay over several months” options caught my attention in the pull-down menu, but vouchers were nowhere to be seen.


After several minutes, I gave in and called to speak to an agent.


After wading through a variety of recorded options and even with a callback from the airline within 30 minutes, I finally had a real human on the phone. We moved through all the steps, and then she paused and said, “I have to read you this statement.”

“Ok,” I said, thinking I’d hear about masking and in-flight behavior. Instead, she proceeded to read a document that made it sound like upon arrival in the UK for my connecting flight, I’d be in a British gulag for 10 days.


You can imagine my lack of diplomacy as I interrupted to ask why oh why would they sell me a ticket from Austin to Athens with a connection in London if I couldn’t board the London to Athens part of the fight, which left three hours after my arrival?


The agent was adamant that I go to a UK.gov website for more information because she knew only what was in the document she was reading. She had no answer beyond her advice to check the website when I asked her to explain why I was being sold a ticket I couldn’t possibly use if the rulebook demanded I spend ten days in quarantine.

Thinking that she clearly needed information as much as I did, I asked her to stay on the line as I checked the authoritative website. It was clearly about incoming flights to London as a final destination.


That was the last thing the agent wanted to hear. In a moment of desperation, she told me that I could cancel the flight and book a different one if I didn’t want to go through London. She and I parted ways.


From there, I called the airline that was actually operating the flight for the airline from whom I had purchased the ticket. That agent there told me to call the British Embassy. I did. The guy at the British Embassy told me to call the airline.

Not one to give up easily, I called the original airline again and told my tale of woe to yet another agent. She proceeded to validate what I had hoped: U.S. passengers on connecting flights through the UK are exempt from quarantine as long as the connection is not over 24 hours; however, I was warned, things could change at a moment’s notice. In which case, the agent promised, we’d be booked through another route.


The take-away from this story: nobody knows anything, but we’ll all be fine if we expect the unexpected.