“My daughter is stranded in Spain. Get her home, please.”
That was Nicole’s desperate plea to Travel Advisor Rhonda Porter the moment she learned the coronavirus epidemic threatened to strand her teenage daughter, Olivia, abroad.
It was a Thursday night.
The President had just announced from the Oval Office that all Americans traveling abroad had 30 days to get home. Nicole’s daughter and three of her fellow Creighton University students had just left for Spain, where they were studying abroad for a semester.
“Everything changed so fast. We were planning to visit her only a week or so later and had all our travel plans lined up. Every 12 hours it got worse,” says Nicole. “By Friday morning I was on the phone with Rhonda, discussing our options.”
“I don’t know how we would have gotten Olivia home without Rhonda.”
A seasoned travel advisor accustomed to helping stranded travelers get home safely, Rhonda’s initial plan was to avoid the initial rush of crowded planes and harried travelers. She put the four young travelers on flights scheduled to leave a few days later.
By Friday evening that strategy had changed.
“I told Rhonda that we should get them home sooner. Despite only having reservations for Olivia, she went above and beyond and jumped on getting all four girls out on an earlier flight,” says Nicole. “Rhonda didn’t want any of them alone so she took on Olivia’s friends too, although they had never booked with her.”
After four or five flight changes, Rhonda got the girls on a flight out of a small city in southern Spain that connected into Paris and on to Toronto.
With Madrid a hot spot, both Nicole and Rhonda thought it wise to avoid trying to route the travelers through that busy city. Unfortunately, upon landing in Toronto the girls were met with chaos and confusion.
Confused and Corralled, College Students Face Chaos in Canada
Much closer to home and yet still not across the border, Nicole’s daughter and her friends faced long lines and crowded waiting rooms in the Toronto airport.
“When they landed, they were informed that they had to be screened by a CDC agent,” says Nicole. “There were only three or four CDC agents conducting one-on-one interviews with hundreds of travelers. The girls missed their flight, but Rhonda was right on it.”
Rhonda booked a hotel room for the night close to the airport, rebooked the girls on flights the next day, and sent texts to the girls at every step along the way, reassuring them and reminding them of simple, yet important travel steps.
“My husband and I are experienced travelers, but the girls really aren’t yet so much of this was new to them,” says Nicole. “Rhonda sent them reminders of what to do at every point, including simple things that are easy to overlook when you’re scared or confused, like remembering to pick up your luggage. She would even tell them what baggage terminal to go to. She was a godsend.”
Rebooked, With Backup Flights the Girls Finally Fly Home
Just to be safe, Rhonda booked the young travelers on backup flights. In the event that they couldn’t make their original flight, they wouldn’t be stranded. Then, she did something unbelievable.
“I don’t know how Rhonda did it, but since the girls had already gone through health screening in Toronto, she was able to communicate that with the airlines so they wouldn’t have to go through health screenings again at O’Hare,” says Nicole. “We all saw the footage of those long lines in Chicago. Olivia had already been through all of that in Toronto and thanks to Rhonda’s intervention, was able to skip the O’Hare nightmare.”
Home Safe and Sound
Olivia and her friends are back home, safe and sound. And while they are self-quarantining for two weeks, are showing no signs of infection. When Nicole looks back over the few frantic days she spent trying to get her daughter home, she realizes that while she lost sleep, she gained a friend in Rhonda.
“I don’t even know if Rhonda is being paid right now, with how bad the travel industry has been hit. I know she worked after hours and through the night to get our daughter home and I can’t imagine going through this without her,” says Nicole. “As a parent you wonder, ‘am I doing the right thing?’ ‘Am I being ridiculous?’ Being able to bounce things off Rhonda was such a blessing. Self-serve and online booking may seem cheaper or more convenient at the time of booking, but if any issues arise, you are on your own. I’m so thankful that wasn’t the case with us. Honestly, I don’t know how we would have gotten our daughter and her friends home without Rhonda.”
Rhonda Porter is special, but she’s not unique. Each one of the travel advisors at Travel and Transport starts each day (and works through the night when necessary) to give our travelers the best travel experience possible.
When disaster strikes, they have all the tools, technology and experience at their disposal to intervene and get travelers home safely. They all have one other thing that can’t be bought or taught - empathy and genuine care for the travelers they serve.
Please know that during these difficult times, and at every time, we will always do our very best to treat you the way we would want to be treated. Not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because it’s who we are.
We look forward to planning your next vacation and showing you the care and compassion you deserve.