Last month, I had a close friend travel abroad to Israel. She was visiting her boyfriend in Tel Aviv and planning to spend quality time with his friends, family, and loved ones. It was sure to be a great time until Air Berlin decided to cancel her outbound connecting flight due to the company's recent bankruptcy announcement and following pilot strikes. After struggling to find an Air Berlin representative to assist with rebooking her flights and retrieve her luggage, she decided to buy a last-minute ticket on Turkish Airlines to make the 4-hour flight over to Tel Aviv. Her bag eventually made its way to Tel Aviv after being untouched in Berlin for nearly 5 days.
I'm shedding light on this scenario because this can happen to anyone. As a travel blogger, my goal is to help consumers fly smarter and savvier by celebrating all the good that happens in the industry, but also spread awareness during the difficult times in this ever-changing and ever-so-dynamic industry. While travel insurance can help ease the burden and recoup costs during these unfortunate situations, I would take extra precaution by following these tips if you're planning an upcoming Eurotrip, which is currently plagued by the declining health of the airline industry.
Fly These Airlines With Caution: Air Berlin and Alitalia
In short, the European aviation market is struggling, marked by the signs of these three airlines who have collapsed or continue to teeter on the brink of extinction: Britain-based Monarch Airlines, German-based Air Berlin, and Italy-based Alitalia. Until conditions change, it is highly-advised to book flights operated by these airlines with caution, in case the airline ceases operations overnight.
As I write this, I'm sad to share that Monarch Airlines, one of Britain's largest airlines, has officially ceased all operations after nearly 51 years of service. The Low Cost Carrier and charter operator publicly denied any signs of struggle despite a running rumor mill, until the evening of October 2, when the Civil Aviation Authority revoked the airlines operating license after the company's cash ran dry. The sudden end of the UK-airline left 100,000+ travelers stranded abroad for weeks. The government has since stepped in by chartering a dozen or so jets from neighboring countries in an airlift mission surmounting $73 million in operating costs.
As mentioned above, Air Berlin has seen better days and is in financial insolvency or court protection. The airline is seeking suitable buyers to consume parts of its business, with a bid coming from rival Lufthansa. Unfortunately, Air Berlin operated its last long-haul flight on Monday October 15 and is expected to close its doors on October 28.
In recent news, the Italian government has once again fished out Alitalia, the struggling flagship airline out of administration or court protection. This is the third bailout from the government in recent years, who has given the failed airline another 6-months to find a suitable buyer. Unfortunately, the airline has not received any offers to date.
While I see the appeal of booking with Expedia, Orbitz, Travelocity (or any Travel Agency, for that matter), drawing upon my own experiences, booking direct with the airline is critical should something go wrong. For all intents and purposes, sites and services like Expedia, Orbitz, and Travelocity are considered online travel agencies or OTA's. These OTA's strike up a deal to offer its consumers an attractive fare and associated set of fare rules, which trumps the airlines own protection plans. The fares are typically priced so low, the travel agency forfeits any rights to any flight changes, which is ultimately passed on to its customers. Said differently, if the airline's flight is interrupted or cancelled, you will have to work with your purchasing group for any help. Unfortunately, airline's prioritize its own passengers ahead of those who booked through a travel agent.
Credit Card Travel Protection
Purchase all flights and travel expenses with a credit card that offers travel protection, like the Chase Sapphire Reserve. Under the benefits, cardholders are eligible for travel reimbursement up to $10,000 per covered trip and a maximum limit of $20,000 per occurrence and a maximum benefit amount per 12-month period of $40,000.
Chase considers the following scenarios covered under this benefit:
Accidental bodily injury, loss of life, or sickness experienced by the Cardholder, a traveling companion or an immediate family member of the Cardholder or a traveling companion
Severe weather that prevents the start or continuation a covered trip
Terrorist action or hijacking
Jury duty or a court subpoena that cannot be postponed or waived
Financial insolvency of the Cardholder’s travel agency, tour operator, or travel supplier
The last bullet considers federal insolvency a viable reason to reimburse a traveler who has been affected by this unfortunate scenario.
There are many reasons to attribute to Europe's struggling aviation market and, as an aviation geek, it's incredibly difficult to see any airline go belly up. Between heightened competition and an influx of radical unsafe behavior, it's clear the European airline market is showing quick signs of decay given decline in air travel. As of October 2, 2017, Monarch Airlines closed it doors, one of the "biggest ever UK airline failure(s)” in history according to regulators. Following closely is German-based Air Berlin and Italy-based Alitalia, who still operating today but faces imminent foreclosure.
For the time being, I would avoid flying these airlines until conditions improve. However, if the airline is offering an unbeatable fare, I would consider buying direct and with a credit card that offers a compelling travel protection program, like the Chase Sapphire Reserve.