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As I’ve mentioned a few times before, I’m currently in the middle of planning a family reunion in Europe. It’s supposed to take place in just a few weeks, but so far, everything has been going wrong. Of course, the biggest obstacle currently is the ongoing war in Ukraine.
To be clear, I can in no way compare the difficulties of meeting my family to what people in Ukraine are going through as we speak. I don’t mean to be a jerk and whine when my parents are in a relative safety for now. Nevertheless, I haven’t seen my sister in five years and my mom badly misses the grandkids. So, I’m willing to do whatever it takes, regardless of the cost.
Yet, I have to admit, the cost is most definitely a challenge. I was able to book flights on Turkish Airlines for $395+$85 insurance per person, for five passengers total. The route is from Minsk to Montenegro, with a connection in Istanbul.
When I bought the tickets, I knew there was a decent chance that the flight out of Minsk would get cancelled. Yet, I took that chance. My reasoning was, if the airline axed the route, I would get a refund. Also, I was hoping that Turkish airlines would rebook the tickets on its partner Belavia or possibly let my family fly out of Moscow instead.
I even contacted Turkish on Twitter, but the rep was vague and would not give me the details on what our options would be in the event of cancellation. Anyway, I rolled the dice on it. By the way, booking the tickets via Belavia would cost me $740 per person, a huge difference. And the flights from Moscow to Montenegro currently cost almost $1,000 per person.
The dreaded cancellation email
As I’ve feared, Turkish Airlines did decide to cancel the flights from Minsk to Istanbul through the end of May. I booked the tickets via Capital One portal (to use up $300 credit) and knew that I would most likely have to deal with them. Still, I’ve decided to call Turkish Airlines just to see what options we’ve got. Of course, first I called my mom and sister and delivered the bad news.
It was decided that if Turkish offered to switch them to Belavia (the codeshare partner), this would be the preferable option. Otherwise, we would ask to rebook the tickets leaving from Moscow (that route is operating so far). If neither option was available, I would switch the flights to the beginning of June, in hopes that they won’t get cancelled. And if that eventually fails, I would simply cancel my Turkish reservation and purchase the tickets via Belavia. Confused yet?
Anyway, I called Turkish and a nice agent told me that he can’t make the switch for me, which I already figured. This is why I’ve mentioned many times that it usually pays to book the flights directly with the airline. Emphasis on “usually” (more on that later).
Since he seemed knowledgeable, I asked him about our options, so I would be informed before making the call to Capital One. He said that switching to Belavia operated flight is a no-go. But swapping the flight to Moscow for free shouldn’t be an issue, since it’s in the same region.
My call to Capital One travel agency
This was my first time contacting this particular agency and to be honest, I was dreading it. I hate dealing with middle-man when it comes to reservations, and my past experiences didn’t fill me with confidence.
But I was pleasantly surprised. The agent was super friendly and eager to help. I just went ahead and asked her to switch the flights to Moscow and gave her the specifics. She put me on hold and contacted Turkish Airlines. After about 15 minute wait, she came back and said that they can rebook me on Belavia flight at no cost. Yes, please!
My relatives won’t have to take a 10-hour train to Moscow, and that’s a good thing. I’m not sure why the Turkish airlines rep I talked to said it would not be possible and makes me wonder if the airlines are more accommodating when dealing with travel agencies. I honestly don’t know, but this makes me rethink the whole benefit of booking flights directly. Especially complicated flights like ours.
Another benefit of booking flights with Capital One is that if they recommend to buy airfare, you get a free price protection for ten days. And guess what? I got $50 back from the five tickets when the price went down slightly due to fluctuations in exchange rate. Very nice surprise.
Purchasing these tickets a few weeks ago turned out to be an excellent decision. If I waited, then my only option now would be to pay $740 per person instead of $395. Multiply it X5, and it’s a good chunk of change.
Unfortunately, my family will have to spend over 6 hours flying from Minsk to Istanbul. Normally, that route takes 2 hours, but since Belavia isn’t allowed in European airspace and there is a war in Ukraine, they have to fly to Turkey through Russia and Kazakhstan, which is nuts.
But we don’t have a lot of options, unfortunately. I was so happy to have something in place. Of course, it’s possible Belavia will also end up canceling the flight, depending on the situation at the time. But we will deal with it when that happens. Maybe we can fly my family to Turkey via Mongolia or something.
I was seriously thinking about asking to switch their Turkish return flight to Belavia as well. It’s not cancelled yet, but chances are, it will be. I’ve decided to leave it be for now. The schedule (when rebooked to Belavia) is terrible and would make them spend half the night at Istanbul airport. Plus, I don’t want them to fly for 6 hours if they don’t have to.
I’m determined to make it work
Before I was able to make the changes, my husband told me that maybe we should just let this whole plan go. Wait a year or two and see if the situation in Belarus improves. He said, we’ve tried and things are just not working out. My response: NO WAY!
My parents are getting old, Belarus is turning into North Korea, and I can hear the iron curtain coming down. Who knows what things will be like next year or even if we will be able to meet at all. The whole point of us going to Europe is to see my family. I can’t stop now.
Of course, if there is a military action in Belarus, then my decision will be made for me. I refuse to go to Russia, and that will probably be the only place my family can travel to. So, for now, we wait and hope for the best. Montenegro or bust.
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.