If you are on a group tour and get delayed at the border, can you be left behind?

Marty Schonberger booked a trip to Petra, one of the world’s great archaeological sites, with Fun Time tours. Everything went perfectly until the group’s bus got back to the Israeli border. Then, as he wrote to us, suddenly it wasn’t a fun time.

While visiting family in Eilat, Israel, the Schonbergers decided to take a tour bus to Petra, Jordan. They boarded a Fun Time bus to Petra and returned to the Israel border at night. That’s when things went awry.

“Because my wife was born in Israel many years ago, the Israeli border guard talked to her extensively about why she was not using an Israeli passport,” he recalls. “When we went to passport control, to our horror and that of the border guards, the tour bus, without the driver even communicating with us, left the area to return to Eilat.”

Schonberger said that they waited over 40 minutes in the hope that the company would be professional enough to send a car. He told us that border control tried to contact the various companies involved, to no avail, then finally called a cab for them. He added, “This was a very scary incident that could have and should have been avoided had the driver simply communicated with us and advised us that a car would be arriving to pick us up.”

He’d like a refund of $390, the cost of both their tours.

His story raises important questions about responsibility when traveling. When you pay for a service from a travel provider, what responsibilities does each party have?

In its response to Schonberger, once our advocates got involved, the tour company provided its point of view.

In this case we can’t hold all the travelers in the bus while only one person is being held back for security reasons. You booked a group excursion rather than a private trip.
We cannot hurt the entire group and delay it because of one hiker who was detained at the border.

The company went on to point out that other members of the group had flights to catch. And disputes the claim that they didn’t send a car.

“Our travel sorter sent a taxi to look for you after the bus left but did not find you. The distance from the border to your hotel is about five minutes away and there are taxis available all the time. We are willing to pay you the cost of the taxi.”

Schonberger offered a compromise.

“Let’s try a different approach,” he says. “Since the total cost of $390 was for round trip and they provided only one-way transportation, let’s ask for a refund of half, plus the $11 for the cab.”

But ultimately they were only reimbursed $30, instead of the $390 they initially asked for.

It seems clear that the Schonbergers didn’t suffer a great financial loss. But they were robbed of something more valuable: their delight at having just visited one of the world’s great wonders. In their correspondence with us, they noted that the trip to Petra had been perfect until they reached the border. But the memory of that trip will now be forever marred by the incident there.

That could have been easily avoided with better communication. Did the Schonbergers know that the fact that one of them had dual citizenship but wasn’t traveling on an Israeli passport might be questioned by authorities? If so, they could have alerted their tour guide so that they could have been put at the front of the line, and be given instructions on what to do if they were held up. Even though this was just a day trip, any trip that involves going through border control has the potential for bureaucratic delays. As a traveler, especially when you’re traveling with a group, it’s your responsibility to ensure that your documentation is in order.

On the other side of this issue, the problem might have been avoided had the tour guide made an announcement aboard the bus as they approached the border that went something like:

In the unlikely event that you are delayed by officials during the border crossing, we will do our best to wait for you. However, because other members of the group may have flights to catch or other obligations, it may be necessary to leave without you. Should that happen, officials will call a cab for you, and we’ll be happy to reimburse you for that expense.

But, apparently, that didn’t happen in this case, and given the emotional distress the Schonbergers experienced, did the tour operator do enough to help the couple when they were detained at the border?

Did Fun Time tours do enough for this couple?

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