Canceling a Europe Trip During Coronavirus

Canceling a Europe Trip During a Crisis Was Hell on Earth

[shareaholic app=”share_buttons” id=”20872686″]

The pandemic put a halt to a lot of people’s travel plans—opening up a whole new world of travel cancellations and what the airlines were required to cover. On March 17, 2020, SVV and I were set to be on a flight from Atlanta to Amsterdam for our 10-year wedding anniversary. Beginning in early March, we started monitoring the news daily for signs that coronavirus cases were so high in Netherlands and the surrounding Schengen countries that we should cancel. On March 11, the U.S. government advised of new restrictions regarding travel between Europe and the United States due to growing COVID-19 cases overseas, and that’s when we officially started the process of canceling a trip during a crisis.

Even though we’re now on the other side of the pandemic, here’s how we went about canceling things in case you ever encounter such travel trouble in the future.

This post was last updated in March 2024.

Canceling our flight with Delta and KLM

I know you’re going to be shocked here given my luck with the airlines, but canceling our Europe trip during the height of coronavirus pandemonium was a seven-day process, but we did eventually reclaim every last penny. Here’s how the whole thing went down.

Trying to Cancel a Trip During Coronavirus

We booked our round-trip KLM flights from Nashville to Amsterdam via Atlanta back in December at $646 a person. As I’ve said before, please only book flights via airline sites; had we booked via an OTA like Expedia (online travel agency), we would have been more screwed than we already were. KLM is the national airline of the Netherlands, and it’s a partner with Delta and the other SkyTeam Alliance airlines. Our flight was operated by Delta, meaning that all of our alerts were coming via Delta, and yet, we were unable to change our flight through the Delta app when alerts started rolling in because we booked on KLM.

About a week before we were set to fly, Delta and all other major airlines announced they were relaxing their change policies, meaning for most you could change your flight one time with all change fees waived if you were traveling during the designated travel period, which kept getting drawn out as the pandemic showed no signs of abating. We were holding out hope until the last possible second that we could still travel to Holland as the Netherlands were not reporting a high volume of COVID-19 cases at the time. But we’ve learned how things can change so, so quickly.

Given as our flight was scheduled to depart on March 17 and return on March 25, we fell within this window and immediately attempted to change our flight following the White House’s March 11 announcement, even before it was eventually canceled. I started on the evening of March 11 by going directly to Delta’s website and app. Once I accessed my booking, it gave me the option to “change my flight” with no penalty. Only, anytime I attempted to do so, I got the below error because I booked on KLM and they technically had to be the ones to initiate the flight cancellation.

Booking a Delta Flight with KLM

The problem? Even though I was canceling a trip during a crisis of global proportions, KLM’s line was set on a permanent busy tone for over a week now—as in, you can’t even get through; you get the old-school “user is busy” alert (who knew that was even a thing in this day and time?) before being hung up on. And KLM is notoriously absent when it comes to responding to Tweets, Facebook messages or any of the other suggested ways of getting in touch with them listed on their official website.

How to get in touch with KLM online

Their website, too, was a bust. For several days, beginning on March 11, it would only allow me to change my flight within one week of the original booking dates (March 17-25), meaning I still would have had to go to Europe sometime in March 2020. Obviously, that was a no-go.

Changing a Flight with KLM

Once I finally did get through on KLM’s website, I got this error saying that I actually couldn’t change my flight online at all. What? KLM’s phone lines had been down more than a week. What’s a traveler to do? Trust me when I say, I tried. For days and days, I tried. To the point SVV was getting extremely annoyed with me and told me to drop it entirely, that it would all work out in the end.

Changing a Flight on KLM

Also, worth noting: Our ticket wasn’t booked via a travel agent, but rather directly via KLM’s website, and it shouldn’t have said it’s a “non-changeable ticket,” as this happened on March 15 well after KLM implemented its own waived fees for changing flights during COVID-19. I have to say I don’t think I’d ever fly with KLM after this process; it felt like being a passenger on a low-cost carrier like Ryanair known for nickeling and diming its customers. Delta, on the other hand, would go on to redeem itself.

Still, at the time, I was beginning to lose patience. Delta wouldn’t let me cancel or change my flight issued on their airline because it was booked via their partner KLM’s site, and KLM was not answering via any channel. Then, on March 14, I woke up to GREAT news: My Delta flight for March 17 was canceled! After three days of trying to get a hold of the airlines and sort this mess out, I could rest easy.

Delta flight cancellation during coronavirus

Well, for 72 hours, that is, until I got this alert on the morning of March 17—the day we were initially supposed to fly out, mind you—from Delta saying they had rebooked us on a flight going the next day, March 18! Say what? This made no sense at all, given that our government had just banned all non-essential travel to Europe. I was at my wit’s end.

Delta flight cancellation during coronavirus

Here’s the thing: If your flight departing from, arriving into or transiting the United States is cancelled by the airline, according to the US Department of Transportation you are eligible for a cash refund, no further reason needed. However, since Delta automatically rebooked us to Europe the following day and we couldn’t get in touch with anyone to say otherwise, I was nervous that they would take our money anyway. And so I persevered.

Frustrated by the number of times I was calling, Tweeting and Facebooking both of these airlines with no response—I get it, they’ve overwhelmed, but this was literally the day I was set to leave—I Tweeted out into the abyss one last time, and my friend Matt responded, suggesting I call Delta’s Medallion line (800-323-2323).

How to get in touch with Delta online

And guess what … it worked! Whereas when I called the KLM line and just got a busy tone for seven days straight, and the regular Delta line was as little as a six-hour wait and as much as 34 hours(!) others told me, immediately, I got a recording on the Medallion line that said “estimated wait time is 34 minutes.” It wound up being closer to an hour, so I put my phone on speaker and worked while I waited.

Then, Diane came on the line. She didn’t ask if I was a Medallion member, just got my flight confirmation number, asked what I wanted to do about my trip and put me on hold while she got in touch with the KLM internal team. She said normally they would only issue a flight credit to use within the year, which honestly I was fine with at this point in the game, but because my initial flight was canceled, I was actually entitled to a full refund but that it would probably take a few weeks to get through.

She confirmed my rebooked flight was canceled, then gave me a case number and I could officially wash my hands of the flight portion of this trip. Thank you, Diane, for being the one person who finally ended this week of stress for us!

We did wind up taking this anniversary trip to Holland two years later, in March 2022.

Canceling with Airbnb during COVID-19

The airlines were the least of my worries, it turns out as Airbnb didn’t make it easy for me to cancel my stays in Holland, despite the CDC and state department travel warnings and the fact that my flight was canceled. As a long-time Superhost with Airbnb, I would never cancel a booking last minute and expect a full refund unless under the most extenuating circumstances, and these seemed like those times.

I immediately called Airbnb when I knew our trip was going to have to wait and started the process. Over the phone, the rep told me I’d get a full refund given the current state of travel affairs. Only, I started getting it in pieces via emails—$30 here, 43 cents there—and noticed large chunks of my refund were not, in fact, there. It seemed as if Airbnb had refunded all the host fees, but pocketed the $150+ in service fees. Hmm. Fishy.

Airbnb refunds in COVID-19

So I reached out via Twitter to ask what was up. Note: When you book an Airbnb, there are a few different cancellation policies that are set forth by each individual host: flexible, moderate and strict. I typically book moderate if I think my plans might change as you can cancel up to five days out, but for a huge Europe trip like ours, I felt fine doing the strict cancellation bookings as there was no way we were going to change. No way, at least, until a global pandemic pulled the wool over the eyes of every single person on Planet Earth. Which is why this initial response from Airbnb on Twitter during the absolute chaos ensuing was so miraculously tone-deaf.

Contacing Airbnb during coronavirus

Airbnb, you might want to reconsider to whom you assign Twitter support in the future.

In the meantime, I had sent support a note via the app—again, cover all your bases in times like these, as you need to show to a credit card provider how far you went to try and recover your costs—and received this response, a day after the Europe travel restrictions were set forth by the U.S. government.

Airbnb refunds in COVID-19

Now, I shared this on Twitter, and it riled people up to no end. Several of my travel industry friends who know Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky emailed and texted him personally, and 24 hours later, Airbnb changed its tune. On March 15, the company updated its extenuating circumstances policy to include all stays booked before March 14 for check-ins between March 14 and April 14. I did receive my refund in full … eventually. But it took a lot of back-and-forth first.

Our Airbnbs totaled about $800 for a week, which is quite cheap for a big Europe trip but also why I chose to book all Airbnb stays as opposed to hotels. They don’t have hotel and occupancy tax we incur over here, and hotel rooms were double the cost for half the space. So if I weren’t able to get it back, I would have been OK financially in the grand scheme of things and likely could have recouped my costs via my credit card insurance after my flight was officially canceled (it would have fallen under a trip cancellation and not extenuating circumstances for a pandemic, which is an important differentiator here)—but you know me: I’m not going to go down without a fight! Justice, friends.

Friends have asked if, after all this, I’ll still use Airbnb in the future, and the answer is: yes. Their hosts aren’t at fault; it’s their corporate policies that are. Plus, they righted their wrong and sent me this apology note—I firmly believe in second chances, and I get that they’re as stressed as anyone in these uncertain times.

Airbnb apology during coronavirus

Imagine having hosts pissed at you as you’re canceling tens of thousands of travelers’ plans without giving a penny back to the homeowners who fuel your business and whose livelihood depends on bookings, while simultaneously having to deal with cancelations in every corner of the earth to comply with health department and government restrictions? There’s just no way to make everyone happy in a situation like this. We’re all screwed and in the same sinking boat, ourselves included as we’re out many of our long-term Airbnb bookings for the year with European and Chinese travelers set to move in to both soon.

So, what do you do if you can’t get in touch with your airline, host or hotel?

Wait it out as long as you can. In such strange times where you have leniency on rescheduling your flights, I’d wait it out as long as you feel comfortable in hopes that the airline cancels your flight like they did us. If that’s the case, you’re entitled to an actual refund, not just a voucher. And if it doesn’t happen and you’re still in that travel window where changes are allowed, then you can always take the waiver-fee change option closer to your date of departure.

Document, document, document. In case it wasn’t already evident, I took screenshots of every single call, Tweet, email and in-app message to the airlines in real time in case I needed have documentation for an insurance claim with my credit card. Which brings me to…

How to get in touch with Delta online

Have the right credit card! We have been Chase loyalists for years and currently use three different Chase cards for our various businesses. They all come with built-in insurance that covers many things like trip cancellations and interruptions, which I have fallen back on several times in the past. In the back of my mind, I knew if I couldn’t get the airline and Airbnb to refund me, then Chase likely would. But you also have to proof to their e-claims team that you’ve done everything in your power to get the other party to refund you first.

Consider insurance—but only if you get the “cancel at anytime” policy. The thing is that most trip insurance does not cover things like pandemics or martial law, so even if I had have purchased trip insurance, I likely wouldn’t have opted for the pricier cancel-for-any-reason policy. If you want to read more about what that entails, travel ombudsman Chris Elliott is an excellent resource. And if you want to look at travel insurance options, my friend Keryn has a blog post that outlines purchasing an annual policy for your family. I am by no means an expert but probably should consider an annual policy for as much as we travel!

Contact the airlines’ special numbers for their most cherished frequent fliers. Can’t get in touch via the normal line? Don’t be afraid to call the premier number, which in my case was Delta’s Medallion line.

Be kind. Yes, I was frustrated that it took this much time and calling to get this trip canceled amid a pandemic, but that didn’t mean I would take it out on any rep I was speaking to. They’re all stressed, they’re overworked, and they’re just the messenger. Exercise a little compassion and be thankful for their help!

And if all else fails, take it to social media. My attempts at getting a hold of KLM and Delta via Twitter may have been a bust, but I firmly believe the sharing of my Airbnb situation on social channels was a small catalyst for the company changing their overall policy for hosts and guests alike.

Canceling a Europe Trip During Coronavirus

We spent the first year and change of the pandemic homebound and focused on diversifying both our clients and our skillsets. And hopefully we will never experience anything again like this in our lifetime. But if we do, now you at least have guidelines to canceling a trip during a crisis.



Canceling a Trip to Europe During Coronavirus
Canceling a Trip to Europe During Coronavirus
  • March 19, 2020

    Wow. Impressively comprehensive, as always. I shared this article with my clients at VHT. They’re a telecom tech company that deals with callback and text messaging communication for CX. This article reads like a case study for their clients. (Some of whom, you mention in the article). They’re even offering free services to overwhelmed businesses (, though we’ll see if anyone even has the capacity to take them up on it.

    They’re discovering that clients with call centers often have the tech in-house in server rooms. This keeps them from working remotely. Bet that will change in the near future.

    Anyway, I’m bookmarking this article. Thanks for all the effort you put into it.

    • March 19, 2020

      Thanks, Scott! I know everyone is doing the best they can. I applaud Delta’s efficiency on its apps for making cancellations/reschedules relatively easy for its customers, it’s just a shame they wouldn’t let me use it since we booked via the partner. On the flip side, the UX on KLM’s site and app is SO bad—and lack of ways to get in touch with them—that I don’t think I’ll ever fly them again.

  • March 19, 2020

    This is a fantastic article lady. Many, many of us need this. I was supposed to be going to Argentina on Monday and still struggling with cancelling flights! This is awesome info

  • March 20, 2020

    Geez, what a palaver! I read this while I’m on hold with Opodo. This is the first time ever that I didn’t book flights directly with the airline, and I’m already seriously regretting it. I was on hold for four hours last night, panicking because I hadn’t had a cancellation email, even though I knew from the airline website that our flights had been cancelled TWO days before. Today, the day before our flight, they finally sent one, and they’ve given me 48 hours to contact them for a refund. I’m currently 3 and a half hours into this one…

    • March 20, 2020

      Ahh, Clazz, I’m so sorry. Since your flights were canceled by the airline, you WILL get a refund, it just might take a bit of time (mine still hasn’t hit my account yet either). This is a helpful piece to reassure you:

    • March 20, 2020

      Thank you for writing this, and so thoroughly. It is perfectly timed. I had travel plans to Romania. My husband and I were supposed to fly from Atlanta to Amsterdam to Bucharest on March 13th. Of course, I didn’t go after the President’s speech on March 11th. I’m still currently working to cancel the trip and get a refund. I used Expedia to book this trip, so I may be in for a long battle. I find your blog post to be very helpful. Thank you.

  • March 31, 2020


    This must have been awful. You & flight companies are cursed. CURSED!

    ‘Glad to hear it all worked itself out after a fortnight or two and your hair turned purple.

    Have I had to cancel a trip for coronavirus? Yep. I was supposed to go to Italy. In early March …

    I did try to cancel the flight but they wouldn’t let me. And so I left it alone & kept my fingers crossed that perhaps I might get the return part back. Meanwhile, I kept getting Emails encouraging me to “check-in.” I didn’t.
    Choose your seat? Ditto.

    I wrote to them again. No chance!
    After my flight had “gone” without me and the Italian president issued a movement ban, I received an Email refunding me the return part of the flight.

    A few days later, I received a refund of the outgoing flight too, with absolutely no hassle.

    The airline? Ryanair!

    How are all we handling this newfound social distancing? As you know, I’m in Germany but I haven’t been out for 2 weeks. We tried doing our essential shopping at our local supermarket but the shelves were empty and the queues made me nervous as I’m asthmatic, so we order online.

    Berlin had a bit of a blip initially with “Corona Parties” and people cycling around town and going off into the forest, but most Germans have actually complied, the streets are empty and schools and everything have been closed since March 16th.

    It does make you anxious but all you can do is support local businesses, do your bit, and stay indoors.

Leave a Comment