Washington State’s Puget Sound area is famous for its moderate climate and postcard-perfect views of the Olympic mountain range. You’ve probably seen those gorgeous images of kayaks in the bay, a whale splashing in the distance, and, behind it all, snow-capped mountains.
The government shutdown was supposed to be a non-event for travelers, but it didn’t quite turn out that way.
When a gridlocked Congress shuttered vast sections of the federal government on Oct. 1 and furloughed 800,000 workers, its decision touched tourists in unexpected ways, from abruptly canceling a camping trip in a national park to foiling a destination wedding. It drained visitors from popular attractions, causing hotel occupancy rates to plummet and hurting other travel-related businesses.
Along the way, many travelers have discovered the important — and often underappreciated — part that the federal government plays in travel.
Without the government, they learned, some of the most interesting parts of the travel industry simply wouldn’t exist. “People haven’t been as aware of the government’s role in travel,” says Joshua Huder, a senior fellow at Georgetown University’s Government Affairs Institute.
Here’s a complaint you don’t see every day. It comes to us by way of Alex Johnston, who was flying from San Francisco to Charlottesville, Va., via Washington on United Airlines.
“We boarded our flight in San Francisco on time,” she remembers. “But shortly after beginning our taxi, the pilot announced that we would be delayed 45 minutes to an hour on the runway because Air Force One was in front of us, flying the same route, so we must wait and allow them the space and time they needed.”
Of course, there’s a good reason for keeping a minimum distance between Air Force One and other air traffic. There have been several close calls between the presidential aircraft and other planes in the past.
Faith James likes to think of herself as a “pretty savvy traveler” but when she planned to attend the presidential inauguration in Washington next month, she couldn’t have foreseen the trouble with the Capitol Hill Hotel Washington D.C.
I couldn’t have, either.
James is taking her 78-year-old mother up to DC to attend the festivities. They were lucky enough to get tickets from their congressman, but accommodations proved to be a little more difficult.
Usually, when multiple parties tell you that you don’t have a case, there’s something to it. So when Mary Kay Kachikis wrote to me about a Quality Inn in Washington that she claims “negligently” misrepresented itself, I have to admit — I was a little skeptical.
It’s not your imagination. Congress seems to be paying closer attention to travelers’ welfare.
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the International Travelers Bill of Rights, proposed bipartisan legislation that would require online travel agencies to disclose information about the potential health and safety risks of overseas vacation destinations marketed on their sites. A week earlier, I covered the aggressive new tarmac-delay laws included in the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill.
I‘m always on the lookout for new fees, so when Katherine Walton emailed me about her recent stay at the Chateau Timberline, a hotel in Packwood, Wash., she had my attention.
Walton needed to cancel her reservation a day before her arrival.
“An agent told me they would charge a $100 fee – the price of one night,” she says. “So even if they are able to rebook the room I will not get a refund.”
Question: I’m writing to you because of a really difficult situation that I have with Travelocity.
My girlfriend and I had a set of multi-destination tickets that we booked through the site. We called Travelocity to ask if we could change one of our flights from Chicago to Washington. An agent told me it would cost another $300. She was nice but her English was not all that great. I got a confirmation email, but without any numbers.
Instead of charging me $300, Travelocity billed me another $4,000. They re-issued all the flights again, including the transatlantic flight.
I’ve been on the phone with their agents for the past month or more, trying to get this fixed. Eventually, they told me that if I cancel the remaining flights I would get a refund, which I agreed to. The refund was to appear on my credit card in one to two billing cycles. I re-arranged my travel plans and bought the tickets I needed elsewhere.
However, I then received an e-mail that said Travelocity is “unable to refund” the money. I called to see what was happening, and several agents and supervisors said that the refund is no longer possible but that I can get credit for future purchases, provided that flights take place within a year. Do you have any advice? — Marko Grdesic, Madison, Wis.
Answer: Next time, don’t change your flights. Oh, who am I kidding? Plans change, and Travelocity should have been able to handle this request without sucking another $4,000 from your bank account.