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As I’ve mentioned awhile back, my parents recently came to visit us from Europe over my kids’ spring break. The timing made me a little nervous, but we forged ahead with our plans. They flew to Florida on March 4th, and were set to spend 10 nights with mom’s friend who lives in Deerfield Beach. Afterwards they would fly to Orlando and we would pick them up there. We were planning to take them to Daytona beach, followed by Orlando stay.
Unfortunately, the situation has deteriorated pretty fast. On March 12th, a ban on European arrivals was instituted and airlines started canceling flights. My parents’ return flight was one of them. I was able to rebook it via Facebook chat The first two legs were operated by United, Lufthansa’s partner.
When Lufthansa agent asked me if I wanted to keep the original date of March 21st, I said Yes. I didn’t yet get a chance to discuss it with my parents, and was just happy to get ahold of someone. If you were caught in this mess, you know how difficult it was to reach airlines at the time.
As soon as I got the confirmation of their new flights, I had a buyer’s remorse. So much could change in a span of a week. Even though United Airlines has officially committed to flying to Europe for the foreseeable future, there was no guarantee that Lufthansa would maintain their Frankfurt-Minsk route. What if Belarus sealed the border? My parents could be stuck in Frankfurt airport for days or weeks. In addition, my dad does not have a Schengen visa. So, German authorities would not even let him leave the building.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized that we needed to get them out of USA as soon as possible. When I talked to my parents, they weren’t sure what to do. My dad agreed with me, and my mom really wanted to stay longer, so she could spend time with her grandkids. They let me make the call.
I hated to be the one to deny them time with their grandkids, but I could see two possible scenarios. They could potentially be stuck in Frankfurt airport unless Belarus decided to send a repatriation flight to rescue them (good luck!) It would be like that movie The Terminal starring Tom Hanks, but with far less charismatic leads.
Or they could end up living in my house for several months. I’m not sure which one is worse, to be honest. All joking aside, my mom is a diabetic and only had enough medication for several weeks. I did buy them medical insurance, but it would run out on March 21st. And if you think they would be better off here during pandemic compared to Belarus, think again. Belarus has 12 hospital beds per 1,000 people, while the US has less than 4. They also live in a big city, while I live in a rural Florida town full of old folks. We don’t even have an ICU.
I told my parents that it would make sense to fly out on Monday instead of Saturday, and they reluctantly agreed. We would spend a weekend together before saying goodbye. I also decided to pick them up rather than have them fly to Orlando. The less they had to deal with airports and potentially infected people, the better. Thankfully, the flight from Miami to Orlando was booked with Avios, so I only lost $10 in taxes. Love Avios program for this very reason.
Good luck getting in touch with Lufthansa
At the time I did not realize just how fortunate I was to be able to get in touch with Lufthansa rep via Facebook. All subsequent attempts led me nowhere. Calling was also pointless. I tried US as well as Canada centers, and after waiting for 1.5 hours, would get disconnected. I realize they were swamped, but still.
Finally, I called Lufthansa center in Argentina. Bingo! The lady understood my concerns, but said they would not be able to change the flights to an earlier date. Fair enough.
United miles to the rescue
At this point, I had two options. I could take a chance on their Saturday flight or book Monday flight via cash or miles. Cash price was $860 per person, quite steep. Fortunately, United program had award availability. I could use 33k miles+$45 per person for the same exact flight. So, that’s what I did.
We picked up my parents in Deerfield Beach and took them to Orlando airport two days later. In the meantime, EU has announced that they were sealing their borders. I was nervous and couldn’t sleep until I saw that their flight from Frankfurt to Minsk has departed. It was the very last flight operated by Lufthansa on that particular route.
All in all, aside from my initial success, I’m extremely disappointed by how Lufthansa handled this whole ordeal. I never got notifications of flight cancellations, and getting ahold of someone was almost impossible. Their Frankfurt-Minsk flight on March 21st just disappeared from the itinerary, and I got no email, nothing. I requested a refund of the return flight online, but I’m not hopeful that I’ll get anything. At this point I don’t even care. If my parents fly here again, I will try to book tickets via United if at all possible.
BTW, my parents were tested for Covid-19 at Minsk airport, and the results were negative. This is what gets me. On the one hand, they are very strict with isolating imported cases. On the other hand, Belarus isn’t closing schools or universities. Life is normal (for now).
A win in a sea of fails
My mom’s friend asked her to take a bag to her son in Belarus. So, I had to pay a $100 fee since my parents already had two suitcases. We needed assistance at self-service check-in kiosk in MCO, and a friendly United agent was happy to help.
She mentioned that I could upgrade my parents to first class on Orlando-Chicago flight for only $99 apiece. That would allow them to check in 2 bags per person at no extra charge. Explaining this to my parents was an exercise in futility.
My mom kept asking why I told her they could only bring two bags. Um, because I don’t have a crystal ball, mom. Also, my dad couldn’t decide if he should check in his carry-on full of precious fishing supplies from Bass Pro Shops. He ended up dragging it with him.
So, basically, my parents could fly in first class for $49 each. I’ll take it! They have only ever flown in economy, so I just couldn’t resist giving them this treat. They loved it, and my mom still talks about it a week later. They promised to take some photos with their phone, so here we go:
My mom said that as soon as the flight attendant found out they speak Russian, she brought them vodka.
Some of you may wonder why I didn’t reschedule their visit in light of the recent developments. There are a couple of reasons. First, it wasn’t my decision to make. My parents didn’t want to cancel, and I hated to be the one to pull the plug on their time with grandkids. Also, the world was a different place on March 4th. Sounds crazy, but true.
We were operating with the best knowledge we had at the time. There were no CDC or US Travel Department warnings in place for either country, and I honestly thought my parents could come here for few weeks without any major issues.
Obviously, I was wrong. But again, hindsight is 20/20. Lufthansa only started offering free ticket changes on March 6th, and by that time my parents were already in America. Also, their visas were set to expire in May (a $400 investment).
It’s a lesson for the future. And hey, two nights with grandkids is better than nothing. I promised my parents that we would come visit them next summer, assuming the pandemic is under control. This too shall pass…
Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, hotel, airline, or other entity. This content has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of the entities included within the post.
Leana is the founder of Miles For Family. She enjoys beach vacations and visiting her family in Europe. Originally from Belarus, Leana resides in central Florida with her husband and two children.