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March 2020

Just a travel agent

Relatives booked flights to Hong Kong on a Very Famous Hong Kong Airline (VFHKA). 

Next we booked a package (flights and hotels), also with VFHKA - so that we could all go together to another city in Asia. 

Then last week VFHKA cancelled relative’s flights to Hong Kong, so we have to cancel the package.  I called VFHKA and provided them with all the details and told them we need to cancel.

When I finally got through, the conversation went something like this:

VFHKA: Yes, that’s OK, but there’s a 50% cancellation fee.
Me: But your airline cancelled the flights to Hong Kong.
VFHKA: We are just a travel agent.
Me: But…..it’s the same company!
VFHKA: No, we are a separate company within VFHKA group.
Me: (laughs)   (gets a bit shouty)  (calms down)
VFHKA Sorry, this is company policy.  There’s a 50% cancellation fee.
Me: Can I speak to your supervisor?
VFHKA OK (long wait).
VFHKA We’ll call you back later.

So the next day we had another call.  Some “highlights’:

VFHKA: We didn’t cancel the flight to (Asian City).
Me: Correct, but this is a family holiday.  If they can’t get to Hong Kong we can’t all go to (Asian City).
VFHKA: Can you give me the flight details?
Me: I did give you all this information yesterday, but, sure, I can read out this random collection of letters and numbers one more time.  Hang on, is that a ‘B’ or a ‘5’ in the Booking Reference? 
VFHKA: Yes, that’s the same people.  We need to check with the airline and the hotel.  We’ll call you back.

They did call me back, but still only partial success.

VFHKA: We can give you a full refund for the hotel but there will be a cancellation fee for the flights.
Me: But your airline cancelled the flights to Hong Kong.  We only need to cancel this package because of that!
VFHKA: I need to check with my supervisor.  We’ll call you back.

Of course after all this nonsense they did call me back and offer a full refund (though it will take 4-6 weeks).  

imageI suppose it’s not really any worse than most so-called “customer service” in Hong Kong.  If you are persistent you can probably get what you want, but you need to wait for your call to be answered (and listen to the repeated announcements that most things can be done on the website).

Having said, it’s a special kind of audacious for them to claim that they are “just a travel agent” when (amongst other major clues) bookings are made through exactly the same website as the airline.  That’s a very high standard of disingenuous nonsense.     

We are just a travel agent.  No you’re not.


2019-nCoV

Hong Kong streets and shopping centres are strangely quiet and traffic is light. 

Yes, we’ve been here before, but last time (just a couple of months ago) it was the protests whereas now it’s Novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV). 

Many local people are choosing to spend more time at home (with some employers telling staff not to come into the office), there are far fewer visitors from the Mainland, and Carrie Lam has said that Hong Kong’s Foreign Domestic Helpers should stay at home on their one day off every week.  That’s fair, right?  

There have been long queues in supermarkets, with some panic-buying of food and cleaning products.  As far as I can tell, although some food items are temporarily unavailable at times, there are no actual shortages (so far).

Surgical masks are a different matter.  They started disappearing off the shelves in early January and now there are long queues for any that become available, and some crazy prices in less reputable pharmacies.

Alcohol hand rub is also very hard to find (even Cathay Pacific seems to have run out). 

It’s a sensible precaution to wear a mask on public transport and in shopping centres (or anywhere that is crowded), but in the last couple of days I’ve even seen people wearing them outside in places where it would be almost impossible to be in close contact with anyone for more than a few seconds.

But we all remember SARS, and so it’s totally understandable that’s there’s an excess of caution.       

The New York Times has a timeline here: As New Coronavirus Spread, China’s Old Habits Delayed Fight