How my travel agent got me back from South Africa to Australia when the airlines halted flights

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Michelle booked me through Qatar, then Qantas (a preferred option as she was flying direct to Sydney), and arranged refunds for me from Singapore Airlines. I returned to Sydney in mid-January thanks to her – flights were in huge demand as Qantas renewed flights for the first time in two years just a week before.

Just five months later, I’m back (with mom on the road to recovery). This time, my children are ready to join me. Michelle booked all of our flights – and has already proven herself to be well worth the $150 booking fee.

Our connecting flights from Johannesburg to Cape Town were booked on British Airways (through a local franchise called Comair). But just two days after I arrived in Cape Town, Comair suspended flights (pending additional funding).

It’s likely a familiar scenario around the world as airlines grapple with lost revenue, a revival and rising fuel prices.

My main concern was how my children would get from Johannesburg to Cape Town once their Qantas flight arrived in South Africa. If I had booked online I probably would have been on the phone or online for hours trying to book new flights.

Instead, Michelle was able to quickly switch domestic flights to South African Airways.

Having tried to change a flight I had booked online with Qantas to Cape Town (when the airline announced in September that it was resuming flights to South Africa), I know all too well the difference between the service of a travel agent and the terrible customer service of Qantas.

I had booked the flight before mum got sick and then wanted to change it to travel with my kids in June. It took two calls of four and five hours each to realize that it was better to convert that flight to credit than trying to change it to match my children’s flights. I booked a new flight with Michelle instead.

After his trip to Cape Town, my son flies to London before returning to Sydney. My niece has just returned to South Africa from London with Qatar after being bumped off a connecting Lufthansa flight from Frankfurt – a nightmarish 40 hour return journey resulting in (temporarily) lost luggage.

I hope my son’s experience is less dramatic, but I’m reassured that having a travel agent gives us more options and certainly makes things less stressful.

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