Interview with UM employee who had to cut short her holiday in Central America because of the corona crisis
Communication advisor Caroline Roulaux was looking forward to a quiet touring holiday – “enjoying some nature, taking it easy” – when she and her hubby boarded a plane for Costa Rica on 10 March. Yes, the corona virus was already finding its way to places outside China, but cancel the trip? No, the couple felt that that would be an overreaction. One week later, everything accelerated. The travel organisation advised them to return to the Netherlands. “Not because of the virus but because people expected the country to go into lockdown, as was the case in surrounding countries.”
Hey @KLM We are stuck in Costa Rica and are unable to change our ticket because flights are only possible via the US and we are not allowed entry. Having waited on hold for 2 hours, the connection was broken! How can we now get home?!?!
Roulaux’s tweet on Tuesday 17 March sounds like a cry for help. Since the travel organisation advised them to leave, they have been trying, in vain, to make contact with KLM. “We booked the tour through that travel organisation, but we arranged the plane tickets ourselves. You can change your own ticket on the KLM website, but we didn’t manage to do so; the United States did not allow any Europeans into the country, at least not if they left Europe less than fourteen days ago. KLM didn’t offer any other option. Waiting until 24 March? No, we didn’t fancy that.”
The first few days in Costa Rica, a country in Central America, between Panama and Nicaragua, were fantastic, she said, but on Monday 16 March they received the message from their travel organisation that they had better return home. “The world was in a whirlwind, other countries in Central America had already closed their borders and airports, so better to be safe than sorry.” In the end, Costa Rica never issued a ban on leaving the country, only a ban on entering the country. Tourism collapsed like a failed souffle. “Restaurants and hotels closed, there was nothing to do.”
Roulaux couldn’t make contact with KLM so she decided to take a different route: “Looking for tickets through Cheaptickets, with a different airline, and then pay for them ourselves.” She spent hours on her phone, browsing the Internet. Finally, they could fly to Barcelona via Mexico and from there to Schiphol – “those stop-overs were the scariest, would our flight not be cancelled at the last minute?” As if the desperation in the hotel room – somewhere inland, two hours from the capital city of San José – wasn’t enough, she could only book and pay for one ticket at a time. Payment for the second ticket went wrong each time; the amount was transferred from her account twice but didn’t reach Cheaptickets. “In the meantime, she saw the number of seats going down.” Eventually she managed to secure the last seat for her husband Ed.
She saw what the corona crisis had brought about at four different airports: at San José (Costa Rica) it was “very busy, everyone wanted to leave”. It was a little less busy in Mexico City, but everyone was wearing face masks. Restaurants were still open. The airport in Barcelona was quite a contrast, all shops and catering facilities were closed. Schiphol (look at the photos) beat them all: “Deserted. You know those screens with flight information? I think that three of the hundred flights weren’t cancelled.”
Still, there were moments to be thankful for this past week, such as the Facebook message from a Costa Rican student “whom I don’t even know”. She put my mind at rest, wrote that I was ‘always welcome’ in her home in San José. “I thought that was really great.”
The travel agent also surprised her with a voucher that “we can use next year – yes, we do want to go again”, as compensation for the missed tours that the two had planned to all kinds of small local enterprises. “It is really nice that we can support small businesses in this way.” If they are still there, because the question is, whether they can survive the drop in tourism.