Vacation Cancellation Fees - Yes or No?

The country's travel agencies cannot keep absorbing the vacation cancellation fees of Israelis called to reserve duty, the Association of Travel Agents told the Knesset last week.

Yossi Patel, association director general, said this at a meeting of the Knesset Committee for Public Petitions, chaired by MK Sofa Landver.

Many travel agencies and airlines have announced this past month that they will not charge a cancellation fee for reservists who have received special call-up orders (tsav 8) and their immediate families. However, in light of the "increasing number of vacation cancellations due to the widescale call-up of reserve forces, I find it difficult to believe travel agencies and airlines will be able to continue to absorb these fees for their customers," Patel told the committee.

"Anyone receiving a tsav 8 is exempt from cancellation fees. Everyone else must pay the fee, since the company cannot absorb the costs," a representative of Arkia Airlines said in response.

An Israir representative detailed the airline's cancellation policy as follows: "The company permits customers to cancel without a fee on the condition that the cancellation takes place at least five business days before the flight. In cases where the trip is cancelled on shorter notice, the company will waive cancellation fees for individuals who have received a tsav 8, as well as for their wives and children."

Some don't waive

Some companies do not waive their fees even when emergency call-up orders are behind the cancellation. Agents of charter airlines ISSTA Lines and Kishrei Teufa said the companies try to limit damage to the company and are unable to absorb the cancellation fees.

People cancelling due to reserve duty are doubly frustrated. "I'm powerless and very frustrated with this absurdity, where I, the 'good citizen,' am supposed to carry the entire burden," said A.G., whose husband was called up three days before their planned vacation: "The danger to my husband, having to manage two children and the house on my own, the cancellation of the vacation and having to bear the full cost of the cancellation fee."

The solution, strangely enough, may actually come from the army: "The Israel Defense Forces is aware of the problem created by reserves being called up on short notice as a result of the security situation. However, it must be remembered that the IDF is at war. The IDF is creating recommendations, alternatives and solutions to the problems resulting from reserve soldiers being summoned with emergency orders. In any event, reserve soldiers have the right to appeal to the Defense Ministry's Claims and Insurance Department."

Attorney Yitzhak Kimchi, who is in charge of consumer protection at the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Employment, has asked all travel companies and airlines to report their cancellation policies so that consumers know what they are in advance. Kimchi also said that consumers who have been asked to pay cancellation fees by companies with a declared policy of waiving that fee can appeal to his ministry.