photo: Prathaan/iStock

How AMA Travel Brought Albertans Home When COVID-19 Struck

By Sandra Sperounes

AMA members John and Kelda Slater had always wanted to visit Morocco.

They booked a trip as part of an AMA Travel escorted group tour and were scheduled to leave in early March. At that point, COVID-19 was slowly spreading outside China, but it wasn’t yet a global pandemic.

Days before their departure, AMA Travel tour leader Elaine LeJambe connected with the group to ensure everyone understood the trip’s potential risks. She also offered health and safety tips, such as packing hand sanitizer.

“We didn’t think the risks were significant enough to warrant canceling our trip,” John says.

Fast-forward to the morning of March 15—about a week into their 14-day tour. The Slaters were riding camels in the Merzouga desert when they learned Morocco was suspending international flights due to the coronavirus. “Our cell phones started to go off with the news,” he says. “It meant we no longer had return flights to Canada.”

Back in Alberta, AMA Travel counsellors were monitoring the situation and let LeJambe know they were already working on getting the group home as soon as possible.

“Whether you book with one of our counsellors or through, there’s a whole team behind you to help before, during and after your trip,” says Nikola Berube, AMA Travel’s director of sales. “Our team is on call 24/7 to help you in the event of an emergency.”

Within hours, John and Kelda were booked on a return flight. They left the next morning, while thousands of other tourists converged on the airport, desperate to rebook their flights. The Slaters flew from Marrakesh to New York City, then on to Minneapolis and Edmonton—arriving only two days after the news first broke.

Don’t get tripped up by a trip cancellation or interruption

“As a retired senior military officer, I’ve seen my fair share of contingency and crisis planning,” Slater says.

“I was impressed by how the AMA team was able to anticipate the effects of a rapidly changing global situation and make decisions on our behalf. Had AMA waited even 10 more hours, I doubt we would have made it out when we did.”

AMA Travel’s team of professional counsellors also helped the Slaters file their insurance claims. With AMA Travel’s trip cancellation and interruption coverage*, they could file for a refund of the prepaid, unused portion of their trip, plus the cost of a new one-way ticket home.

“Each claim is unique and each insurer has different policy wording,” Berube says. “Before your trip, always check with your insurer to see what expenses will be covered.”

AMA members Ruth and Dan Motyka also had their 21-day cruise of Southeast Asia cut short by COVID-19. Though there were no cases onboard, Princess Cruises made the decision to end the trip 10 days early in Singapore.

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Ruth immediately emailed AMA Travel counsellor Shawnda Beaudoin, who booked new flights for the Calgary couple. “Before we went to bed that night, we knew we were on a flight at 8 a.m. the next morning,” Ruth says. “Our friends from Toronto, who didn’t book through AMA Travel, were really ticked—they had to wait until 10 p.m. to fly home. Kudos to Shawnda and AMA. They picked up the ball very quickly.”

Beaudoin also went to bat for the Motykas upon their return to Alberta. While Princess Cruises refunded the unused portion of the couple’s cruise and offered extra compensation in the form of travel vouchers, the latter would have expired at the end of 2020. Beaudoin, who has more than 20 years of experience as a travel counsellor, got the vouchers extended for another year.

“You hope nothing goes wrong with your trip, but it can,” she says. “And that’s when you need a travel counsellor to help or advocate for you.”

The numbers behind AMA Travel’s efforts to bring Albertans home

1,270 Albertans safely returned from abroad with the help of AMA Travel, after COVID-19 closed borders and the Canadian government advised citizens to come home.

• 3,000+ affected travellers were contacted by AMA Travel counsellors—who also fielded more than 10,000 customer calls and 500-plus travel insurance* requests.

• 5,000+ hours of time that AMA Travel counsellors spent on hold with suppliers—airlines, cruise lines and tour operators—to help members.

When you’re ready to plan your next trip, speak with an AMA Travel agent and travel with confidence knowing we’re here for you every step of the way.

*AMA Travel Insurance is underwritten by Orion Travel Insurance Company.  Certain exclusions, limitations and restrictions apply. Subject to certain terms, conditions and limitations.