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Getting Home From France During Coronavirus: Time And Money-Saving Tips From My Own Experience

Getting home from France during Coronavirus-Plage des Sablettes, Menton(J. Chung)

I believe getting home from France during the Coronavirus pandemic was easier for me than most due to a few factors: free cancellations, airline points, and imposed flight changes. I just want to share some solutions if you are stuck in France and need to get out….fast.

Advice On Getting Home From France

Coronavirus sign at train station (J. Chung)

Coronavirus sign at train station (J. Chung)

When I left for France on February 26, the Coronavirus had not yet been deemed a pandemic. There were cases in China and many other countries, but not to the extent it is now. In late February, France only had 17 cases. I was concerned but not worried. By the time I had settled into my trip, I began to worry because part of my trip was to take me to Italy—-Sicily for a conference on March 9 and Italy soon became the epicentre of Coronavirus in Europe.

I have realized that I was extremely fortunate to have gotten out of France with basically no problems and no extra major costs due to these 6 factors.

Hotel Bookings: Free Cancellation

My fear wasn’t about getting the virus in Italy. My fear was about being quarantined and not able to get out of Italy. So, once I learned that the conference was cancelled, I moved into action. The hotel that my friend and I had booked had free cancellation up until 4 days before the conference. We were able to cancel the hotel and not incur any costs.

Phone Calls: Skype Calls

My French SIM card would not let me make 1-800 calls and I knew this, so I used Skype calling, which worked out very well. The cost per call was very cheap. I loaded up $5.00 of credit and it allowed me to make calls. Ordinary phone calls can get expensive, especially when an airline puts you on hold for hours. Using Skype, it hardly cost me anything and I didn’t need a subscription. (Note: some 1-800 calls are free)

Flights To/From Canada: Frequent Flyer Reward Tickets

I live in Canada and had purchased two, separate reward tickets through Aeroplan (Canadian Frequent Flyer program). One way from Toronto to Nice and one way from Rome to Toronto. In hindsight, this is what saved me….time and money. As the trip to Sicily was now cancelled, I decided to only add on one extra night at the Nice airport and get home ASAP. That way I could check out of my Airbnb, drop off my stuff at a luggage storage facility in town, spend the day in Nice and then at the end of the day, head to the airport.

Rebook Using Aeroplan (Frequent Flyer Reward)

Here’s where I really lucked out. I was able to cancel my Aeroplan flight for $75, all online with no phone call required.  My points would also be refunded. Because I still had 90,000 points, I was able to book another flight from Nice.  I decided to go business class: $394 and 55,000 points. I figured if my trip is going to be messed up I might as well enjoy the flight home.

One thing I realized: it was easier and cheaper to cancel the flight. “Changing” the booking would have cost more ($100) and require that I telephone Aeroplan. It was close to impossible to reach anyone on the phone. If you don’t have enough points to just book another flight this might be your only choice.

Ordinarily, people book return flights. If your government doesn’t raise the warning to level 4 (forcing the airline to change your flight) or if the airline doesn’t offer free cancellation, you’re on the hook for hundreds of dollars and the time to change the flight.

One Thing I’d Do Differently

In hindsight I should have held off on cancelling the flight and just booked my new flight. The reason? On March 12 Air Canada informed me that my flight from Rome to Toronto had been cancelled. If I had called them to say just refund me my money, I could have saved the $75 cancellation fee; however, that’s peanuts in view of the problems other people have encountered.

Warning About Your Points

Thank goodness I had those extra points because I learned that your points are not reinstated automatically. It took 12 days for me to get the points back and I am still waiting for the refund of fees/taxes ($229). If I do not receive my refund, I have proof that I did cancel and did try to reach Aeroplan (through phone calls, Twitter and FB messaging). If need be I will take them to small claims court.

Getting A Full Refund On Your Flight

On February 28, 5 days before I decided to cancel my trip to Sicily Alitalia informed me that my flight had been changed. This actually proved to work out in my favour because based on Regulation (EC) No. 261/2004 of the European Parliament and of the Council I was able to cancel the flight and get a full refund. I would have arrived at my final destination 3 hours and 35 minutes later than scheduled. While it was very difficult to get through to Alitalia by phone, I finally did and got my refund. I did have to pursue this (bug them) through Twitter private messaging and emails; however, it worked and I got my refund after a week.

As for my flight from Catania Sicily to Rome, I was hoping Alitalia would cancel it so i could get a full refund; however, they didn’t. So, the day before the flight, I put through a request to cancel my booking.

Know Your Rights And Be Persistent

If you live in Canada, check out Air Passenger Rights website or the Facebook Group, “Air Passenger Rights”. Gabor Lukacs is an assistant professor at Dalhousie University and a fabulous advocate for our rights and what we are entitled to (if there are flight delays, cancellations, baggage delays, damages, etc).

Also, make use of all social media platforms. Use Twitter and Facebook (public and private messaging), fill out the website forms, and email the respective companies. I became a PAIN because I wanted my money back. I also sought advice from other travellers and the Air Passenger Rights FB group. Together I had enough knowledge to figure out what to do.

Cancel Rather Than Not Show Up

It is better to cancel your booking rather than not show up. If I cancel, I can at least get my taxes back. If I just don’t show up, I get nothing. I filled out a form to cancel online,  tried to cancel through Facebook and Twitter Messaging. I also tried calling (no answer) and I recorded the calls. The reason for this? I took all those steps to prove (if necessary) that I did try to reach Alitalia to cancel my booking.

I am grateful things worked out as well as they did and encourage those who are away to get home sooner than later because I believe it will only become more difficult trying to figure out how to get home from France especially when more places have to close in France (ie. Non-essential businesses must close—cafés, restaurants, bars, cinemas. Only banks, supermarkets, and tabacs can stay open).

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11 Comments

  • Reply
    Maria Styacko
    March 17, 2020 at 3:03 pm

    Great to hear that you managed to return safely. This whole situation is ridiculous. I am scheduled to fly from Saskatoon to Marseille (via Amsterdam) on April 13. Because the EU has closed its borders, that obviously isn’t going to happen. What would you suggest I do? I thought that the airline would send me an email (I booked on-line through KLM, although there are also Westjet and Air France airlines involved). But I have seen no email. I thought that it would be better if they cancel, so I can get all my money back.

    • Reply
      Jan
      March 17, 2020 at 3:13 pm

      April 13 is a bit far from now. I would hold off and not cancel yet.
      Wait for them to cancel (so you can get a full refund).
      In the meantime, keep an eye on their website and if they announce certain cancellations.
      You could reach out to them and ask, “Are you going to cancel my reservation?” Keep a copy of their response. Even reach out to them on Facebook and Twitter…..although you might not get a response.

      I would also seek advice on the Facebook group, Air Passenger Rights and see what Gabor recommends.
      Good luck.

  • Reply
    Cindy Ladd McCain
    March 17, 2020 at 3:24 pm

    So sorry we couldn’t meet in Sicily as planned. So thankful we got back most of our flight money and cancelled the hotel with no problem. Talking with you as we tried to decide whether or not to chance the trip to Italy, then seeing you move to Plan B, I was impressed at how you calmly figured out each next step despite bad news unfolding daily. As always, you enjoyed your time in France and shared the good stuff with your readers–signs of a pro.

    • Reply
      Jan
      March 17, 2020 at 9:14 pm

      I’m sorry we couldn’t have met up. It was a trying time for both of us, trying to decide what to do. In the end it worked out REALLY well for us. I would have hated to have been quarantined in Italy.

  • Reply
    Rachel Heller
    March 18, 2020 at 6:01 am

    I would have liked to see you in Sicily, but it sounds like the fact that you didn’t panic-cancel worked in your favor. I think an important tip is to book hotels you can cancel till quite last minute. I did that for some, but not for others, unfortunately.

    • Reply
      Jan
      March 18, 2020 at 8:18 am

      Yes it would have been great to finally meet in person. HOpefully this will end soon and there will be another conference (maybe in France?) where we can meet up!

  • Reply
    Kate
    March 18, 2020 at 12:05 pm

    Thank you so much for this post Janice. I picked up a lot of new tips from your article. I didn’t know about the face book page, ‘Air Passenger Rights’ and will have to reconsider a Twitter account. I really appreciate you sharing your experience. Despite lots of travel, I have actually never needed to cancel a trip. I am booked to fly to Paris May 8 but am just holding off for a couple weeks to cancel so that I don’t need to pay any fees. You did really well under extenuating circumstances. I always think there is so much to be learned from ‘misadventures’. Even hearing about stories of lost passports and how to handle it is very valuable. It’s way more practical than the usual, ‘don’t lose it’ advice. It really helps people to be educated travellers and troubleshoot obstacles with more confidence.

    • Reply
      Jan
      March 18, 2020 at 12:51 pm

      Thank you. I’m so glad it was helpful.

  • Reply
    Frances Folsom
    March 18, 2020 at 1:44 pm

    Thanks for writing and posting this article. Great tips, I’ve saved it to my France folder.

    • Reply
      Jan
      March 19, 2020 at 8:45 am

      Glad they helped.

  • Reply
    Kristin Henning
    March 19, 2020 at 10:52 pm

    I like that you covered all the bases, including even the Skype calls. The process and phone time often isn’t considered, but frequent travelers like you know these details.

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