It is Cancel culture, but in the real world
With all my international travel over the decades, we actually got to the point we were planning shopping trips in Germany: "No point buying it here [in Canada], we'll get it next time we're in Germany." Then the WHO shut down the world, but after 2.5 years we are finally booked for Germany again. Quite frankly, as much as we love travelling overseas, we found not-flying a rather pleasant experience. But, as we have family in Europe, it was time to see them again.
When it comes to flying across oceans, I prefer Air Canada over the other airlines. But Air Canada was not yet ready to fly non-stop from Vancouver to Germany, so we are going Lufthansa, our #2 choice. Inside Germany, we travel with Deutsche Bahn, second class (which feels like an airplane's first class) with reserved seats.
(Tip: Germany no longer requires covid testing for arriving passengers who have at least two doses of the approved vaccines.)
Everything was booked! Then came the cancellations.
"Timetable change for your trip to Berlin Hbf (tief)." DB wrote that our train was cancelled, and that we needed to manually book a different one. Best as I can tell, the high-speed ICE train to Berlin (3 hours) was replaced exactly on our date by a slower locomotive, so the trip would now take 5.5 hours.
I re-booked, but never did figure out how to get back our $24 seat reservation and cancellation insurance fees for the cancelled train.
"ACTION REQUIRED: Your Air Canada flight has changed." Air Canada wrote that our Lufthansa flight was cancelled, but that we had been re-booked for another one. I just needed to click the button to accept the changed reservation, or else cancel it and then choose a different flight. The button showed the name of the button's variable, and so it did not work in four brands of Web browser on three computers -- an HTML coding error.
Examining the changed flights carefully, I could see no difference: same flight numbers, same departure times, same arrival times.
I phoned the airline (Air Canada, through whom I had booked the flight) and was pleased that they offered a callback service. As I waited, I finally found the difference: our seating class had changed from N to E, but still in Premium Economy. The agent confirmed that that was the only change, but could not explain why it happened, or what the difference between N and E is. Neither could the Internet.
The agent kindly offered to book our seats while on the phone, but then realized she couldn't, as the flight was with Lufthansa. Lufthansa told me they would charge $364 to reserve seats early.
I was puzzled why the flight from MUC to NUE would take two hours, instead of the normal one hour. Again, it took a while to figure out the difference. The "flight," LH3806, it turns out, is a bus.
Other than taking twice as long, we don't mind taking long-distance buses in Europe, as they also are luxurious. Being a bus ride, I wondered if we could disembark early, so that our relatives would not have to drive to NUE to pick us up. Nope, it's non-stop, airport to airport, almost as if it were a real plane.
Our credit card had been giving us travel health insurance over the years, but I wondered if it covered us should we get covid while travelling.
(The answer seems to be: you are not covered if your government recommends against international travel.)
I made a half-dozen attempts to get through to CanAssist, the insurance firm -- email, phone calls, online chats -- and all were rebuffed. When I called the credit card company direct, the call was redirected to the wrong insurance company. Blue Cross, the agent told me, had not handled this credit card in quit a few years, and he was puzzled why he was still getting redirects.
As I perused the credit card's impregnable Web site, I found that we, in fact, had no insurance. Now that were were older, the duration of coverage was cut in half. As our trip was longer than the duration, we had no coverage at all.
Followed by a frantic search for travel health insurance from elsewhere. The one we got does cover covid.
Cancelled Covid Test
While I was making all the travel arrangements, the Canadian government still required a covid test in the country from which we would be returning to Canada.
(Tip: Flying into Canada, everyone needs to download the ArriveCAN app for your phone, and then fill in the information required: personal data, passport info, covid vaccinations, for you and your travelling companions. Government of Canada now carries out random covid tests upon arrival, and you do not need to quarantine while awaiting the result.)
So I booked with the official test center at BER -- $122. Then the Canadian government rescinded the requirement. I wrote the email address provided for "Further questions regarding the order or payment?" requesting the refund, but received no reply. Wrote again, no reply. I was getting tense, as refunds were provided only within 14 days.
So, time to search for solutions, again. It turns out the covid reservation site is run by ticket.io, which is like a TicketMaster for Germany, and offers their Web site in English. The testing is done by a firm in Koln, whose Web site is in German. Through the assistance of Google Translate, I found a phone number, but did not relish the idea of having to speak in bureaucratic German, which is a language all of its own. While dithering over making the phone call at a timezone-appropriate moment, I spied an unlikely email address, and was desperate enough to try it. Five minutes later, I had my refund.
The $122 refund will go towards the $624 travel insurance premium.
The Secret of Premium Economy
When I last flew to Europe, I discovered the secret of premium economy. Briefly, this is like flying business class at a cost that's lower than full-fare economy. Airlines dedicate only 3 or 4 rows to this class, and fit seven seats across a width that in economy is ten or 11 seats across.
Here is the pricing for a flight leaving next Monday, YVR-MUC:
- $1,164 - cheapest economy
- $1,924 - most expensive economy
- $1,619 - premium economy
- $5,927 - business class
Instead of being squeezed into cattle class, you get
- Two suitcases and a carry-on free
- Early boarding
- Dedicated flight attendant
- Big wide seats with lots of knee room and leg rests
- A travel kit
- Pre-flight drink
- Offered a paper menu of meal choices
- Served on china with stainless cutlery
- Can change flights with no service fee
In general, you are treated like a human being again.
At least our booking for airport parking hasn't been cancelled -- yet.