Travel is said to broaden the mind, but in the new world of the coronavirus it can test the patience and cause unexpected financial woes.
Long lines and security checks at airports have been frustrating travelers for years, and the virus has brought frustration on steroids. We were on final approach to Los Angeles on our way home to Boise last week when my wife got a text saying our flight to Seattle, then the virus’s U.S. epicenter, had been canceled. We were supposed to have flown directly home from there. Instead, the text said, we would be flying all night and most of the next day, from L.A. to Spokane to Portland to Seattle to Boise.
And that was nothing compared with what happened to Estella and Jim Warburton.
And 48 of their closest friends.
They should be in Israel now. They were supposed to have left a week ago today. The Warburtons were part of a group of 50 would-be travelers from Idaho, Oregon, Washington, Arizona, California and Virginia who were looking forward to a trip booked through the Boise to Bethlehem Holy Land Pilgrimage.
For the majority, the trip represented a major expenditure. Many are seniors on fixed incomes. Most are in their 60s or 70s. The oldest is 82.
Not all are members of the same faith, but visiting the places that figure prominently in Christianity was important to all of them. They also would have done charity work, helping needy orphans, while in Israel. They’d spent a year planning and paying for the trip, which they were looking forward to as a religious experience.
“A lot of us do Bible studies,” Estella Warburton said. “But when people ask me why I believe the things I believe, I don’t know all the answers. I wanted to learn. The pilgrimage was going to be a way of reinforcing my beliefs.”
The 14-day itinerary included many of the places central to Christian beliefs – Bethlehem, Nazareth, Calvary, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and others.
“We were really looking forward to seeing all of those places,” Jim Warburton said. “We wanted to see the sites. We wanted to walk the places Christ walked. An experience like that makes you look at your values and the way you live your life.”
The pilgrimage, Estella added, would have been “a once in a lifetime thing. It’s not something you’re going to do again and again. And it can have such a big effect on you. You can read and watch all the videos you want, but when you get the personal experience it makes you more aware what you believe and why you believe what you do.”
That, at least, was her hope.
Until the trip was canceled because of the coronavirus.
First Israel closed roads leading to many of the places the group planned to visit. Then restaurants and other businesses closed. Then Israel itself pretty much closed its borders. If their plane had landed as planned in Tel Aviv, they’d have had an unwelcome experience nothing like what they’d envisioned.
“We were told that if we were to arrive in Tel Aviv we’d probably be isolated there and then isolated again back in U.S. for two weeks,” Estella Warburton said. “Then we heard that we wouldn’t even be allowed to get off of the plane, that we’d just have to turn around and come back.”
A disappointment in more ways than one. In addition to missing out on the trip of a lifetime days before it was to have begun, there was the considerable financial impact of the cancellation – which they thought their trip insurance covered.
The cost of the pilgrimage was $5,200, or more than $10,000 per couple. A lot of money for pilgrims on fixed incomes, but clearly they thought it was worth it. It was worth enough to a woman who had gone on a previous Boise to Bethlehem pilgrimage that she paid for it with one-dollar bills, tips she’d made working as a waitress.
You don’t spend that many hard-earned dollars on a trip without buying travel insurance. Virtually all of those who had signed up for the trip had it. The cost of their policies varied, from a little over $300 to nearly $1,000.
Those who bought the insurance thought they were covered. Three of them were – up to a point. They’d purchased the most expensive insurance, which covered cancellation for any reason. They’ll get up to 70 percent of their money back.
The others weren’t covered at all and will get nothing from the insurance companies. Their policies didn’t cover cancellation resulting from a pandemic.
“That was somewhere in the fine print,” Estella Warburton said.
To its credit, United Airlines will give the members of the group vouchers that will allow them to apply the cost of their airfare to fly anywhere United goes within a year of the date the flights were booked. They have until January of next year to use the vouchers.
“Obviously, we’re very disappointed,” Jim Warburton said of the cancellation. “I wasn’t 100 percent surprised this happened with the way the virus is going, but it was still a shock. We’re hoping that when all this passes the tour can be rebooked.”
That might happen; it might not. If it does happen, there are no guarantees that it won’t cost more. Some of the 50 might not want to go after what happened. Some might not be able to go.
Their insurance companies won’t refund their premiums.
Countless people are affected by the coronavirus. Many are sick; some are dying.
And some are making money off of it.