coronavirus

NBC 5 Responds: Travel Hassle Due to Coronavirus

NBC 5 Responds looks at the uphill battle to cancel trips: "It felt like they were completely indifferent and they didn't want to take care of the situation.” By Lisa Parker and Robin Green

NBCUniversal, Inc.

Max Wagner has been trying to cancel his trip for weeks. The Chicago man and his friends booked their vacation to Bangkok and Vietnam – with a layover in Seoul, South Korea – last October. Wagner says he’s called Korean Air 10-20 times over the last two weeks, and the same thing happens every time.

“'It's just a dial tone on repeat. And usually if you hear a dial tone eventually they'll put you on a waiting list,” Wagner said. “Nothing. The phone got disconnected."

Wagner’s biggest concern about the trip: the stop in Seoul, South Korea: a coronavirus hot spot, reporting 7,869 cases and 66 deaths to date.

"Which was probably the second most dangerous place to go really scared us. Even if the flight were to take off, we had our reservations about going," Wagner told NBC 5 Responds.

Early in the crisis, Wagner and his friends watched, and waited.

"Look what's happening now, look where this is now. Now it's in Italy. Look at how this is spreading," Wagner recalled.   

The group finally decided to pull the plug in February.  And that's when Wagner says all five hit a brick wall, spending hours on the phone, trying to cancel the trip on Korean Air, and getting a busy signal. Every. Single. Time.

"I probably made 10-20 calls to Korean Air," Wagner said. "It felt like they were completely indifferent and they didn't want to take care of the situation."

No response followed by a confusing one: a convoluted email pointing Wagner to Korean Air’s website: 

"Please check your changed/cancelled at Korean Air homepage "my reservation" menu and proceed with refund."

 "None of the hyper-links, none of the links were active, so the website really led to nowhere," Wagner said.   

Just hours before take-off, Wagner reached out to NBC 5 Responds.

“We really had tried everything, Wagner said. "We were in a tough spot and we just wanted a response."

It is the same kind of frustration NBC 5 Responds is hearing from customers of almost every other major player in the travel industry. If you can't get thru to cancel, you risk being a no-show, and the loss of a full fare.

We asked Korean air what it was doing to accommodate customers like Wagner, who for weeks tried in vain to communicate with it.

The airline did not answer our question, but says "inquiries to its call center have increased dramatically due to coronavirus" and it is "updating the latest refund guidelines" on its website.

Korean Air then called Wagner.

"I received a call last night, thanks to NBC 5, so thank you," Wagner said. "I spoke to a human being, which was refreshing."

Wagner’s full refund of $600 is now in the works. Good news after what he describes as a very trying experience.

"This really took the air out of us," Wagner told NBC 5 Responds."I definitely have second thoughts. I'm not sure if I'm completely icing Korean Air as a business, but it was a frustrating situation.”  

Click here for links to travel cancellation policies.

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