# Wednesday, April 22, 2009
                 
Canada has now been in the news twice in the past week due to Canadian travelers experiencing difficulties. One incident was the hijacking of a Canadian commercial flight in Montego Bay, Jamaica, that was ultimately destined for Cuba. The other incident relates to Conquest Vacations not paying their bills, leaving Canadian tourists stranded as many were forced to come up with money for their hotel bills, which were included in their travel package.

Stephen Fray, a 20 year old Jamaican resident who has been described as being 'mentally challenged' stormed a CanJet Airlines flight, armed with a loaded gun. Fray forced his way past airport security, barging onto the jetliner and took the crew hostage. He fired a shot that grazed the co-pilot's face and then demanded to be flown off the island. The situation was ultimately resolved when a unit from the Jamaica Defence Force Counter Terrorism Operations Group stormed the aircraft and arrested the disturbed young man after 8 hours of negotiations did not resolve the crisis.

This incident however, is raising questions about airport security around the globe. In a post 911 world, where airport security has been dramatically increased, it's disturbing that an armed man with mental health issues could reach an aircraft with relative ease. Security personnel at Sangster International Airport are not armed. A former senior immigration officer at Pearson International Airport who is also an expert in terrorism and national security, said that this hijacking could have happened anywhere. He raises the question of airport security personnel being armed, being sufficiently trained to deal with this type of situation, as well the distance between the security check and the aircraft, where ideally there would be enough time and distance to intercept someone before they had the opportunity to approach a waiting plane.

Approximately 1,600 Canadian travelers were recently stranded when Conquest Vacations suddenly went out of business on April 15, 2009, citing the current economic downturn for their business failure. Other reasons that they stated for their now defunct operations includes price wars with other major tour operators, overcapacity and unrealistic and unreasonable demands by credit cards companies. When Conquest suddenly and unexpectedly (at least to Canadian consumers) shut their doors, they claimed that current vacationers would not be affected; however that statement has proved to be false. Canadians who were on vacations that had been booked through Conquest were suddenly faced with demands for their hotel payments, which they had already paid through their booking. Some Canadians who were stranded in Mexico reported that hotel security demanded payment immediately; if not paid they threatened to call Mexican police. Some were suddenly locked out of their hotel rooms until payment was made; there is a report stating that one traveler was denied their medication that was in their hotel room, and became quite ill as a result of this delay. As well, some vacationers who assumed they had a paid airline ticket back to Canada were faced with the realization that this was possibly no longer the case. With banks being closed on the weekend, some travelers had difficulties getting money wired to them in order to fulfill these unexpected financial demands. The hotels were demanding payment that Conquest had not honored, and had not informed anyone who had booked through them that this was a possibility.

Because Conquest has shut down business as opposed to filing for bankruptcy, Canadians who have booked through them and have paid in full will have to wait up to 6 weeks to get a refund on their credit card, as there is an investigation pending. For those who have already booked vacation time from work and booked their vacation, and do not have the financial resources to pay again while waiting for their refund, this effectively means that they're out of luck. All future bookings made through Conquest will not be honored; these vacations need to be rebooked through another tour operator. They will have to seek refunds through their travel agent, credit card company, and/or through Conquest itself.

There has been a lot of criticism regarding the Travel Industry Council of Ontario (TICO) and their responsibility regarding whether or not they adequately protected consumers. Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty says that the government owes it to Canadian travelers to examine whether or not TICO should warn the public when a tour operator is in financial difficulty. However TICO responds to this suggestion by saying that by warning the public of possible financial distress, tour operators could find themselves failing due to the publicity. Currently, there are no rules in place in order to prevent this situation happening again.

For Canadians who are planning a vacation abroad, it appears that the responsibility regarding this issue lies with the traveler. Although provincial travel watchdog agencies are trying to help stranded tourists, and are offering to refund their out-of-pocket expenses, this still does not totally alleviate the problems that these travelers faced. And with the economy still in a downturn, this could potentially happen again if other operators suddenly close their doors without any warning.

All inclusive travel insurance does offer some protection for stranded travelers. Depending on the plan, it can cover costs that are non-refundable when it comes to the sudden disruption of all inclusive trips, as well as covering unexpected medical costs. Canadians who are planning to leave the country for a vacation should be aware of what their travel insurance coverage includes, and adjust this if necessary. Every trip is different, depending on the destination country, tour operator, etc. It is highly recommended that all Canadians research and understand what their travel insurance covers. While all inclusive coverage may not be necessary for every trip, it may be a wise choice for some locations, as well as the type of trip planned.  For more information regarding the different types of travel coverage that are available, please visit our Travel Insurance page.

posted on Wednesday, April 22, 2009 5:40:59 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #   
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