Tracey Madigan and her husband had decided that this was the year they’d finally take their kids to see the Olympics. That was, until the bombs started going off.
First there was the brutal suicide bombing last month of a train station and bus in Volgograd, Russia, killing more than 30 people. And on January 10, 2014, the US State Department issued a Travel Alert for Russia, which included a large section on “Terrorism.”
Not if, but when
Then, last week, Tracey read an interview with Bill Rathburn, a former police chief of Los Angeles and Dallas who also ran security for the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta. Rathburn said that, in his opinion, “it’s not a matter of whether there will be some [terrorist] incident [at the Sochi Olympics], it’s just a matter of how bad it’s going to be.”
Rathburn added that, “to my knowledge, this is the only Olympics that have had an announced, credible threat well prior to the Games.” He warned that the Russians need a major victory against Chechen rebel leader Doku Umarov, who some call “Russia’s bin Laden. “Unless the Russians can take down the leadership and a significant number of that group or his followers before the Olympics,” Rathburn said, “I think they’re in for some major problems.”
Tracey and her husband had had enough. They decided that the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia was no place for their kids, aged 14, 12 and 10.
Aeroflot had no cancellation fee, Delta wants $1,200
Tracey hit a snag trying to cancel the family’s plans.
While Russian carrier Aeroflot said it was willing to cancel their flight from Moscow to Sochi without a penalty, US carrier Delta told Madigan that she and the kids will have to pay $300 per ticket, a total of $1,200, to cancel their plans. (Her husband, who works for a French-Canadian television network, and has covered the Olympics for his job since 1992 in Barcelona, will still attend.)
Tracey says she contacted Delta by phone, was informed of the penalty, and then tried repeatedly to contact the company via their Web site, and social media, but has heard nothing in response. “The absence of communication is exasperating,” she told me. “You’d think they’d have more people on this. It’s only going to get worse before it gets better. I can’t believe that no one is answering my calls for help.”
I placed a call to Delta asking for comment, and will update this story when they get back to me.
In fact, Madigan just today cancelled her flight on Aeroflot, and there was no cancellation fee – she got all her money back. This is her receipt, show that Aeroflot returned all their money:
Tracey and her husband aren’t the only people getting cold feet about the Sochi Olympics. I’d written earlier about a CBS report that bookings are down as compared to previous Olympics.
“A good cultural experience for the kids”
Tracey and her husband thought the Olympics would be a “good cultural experience” for the kids, who were finally “old enough to actually learn something” from the trip, she told me. So, they planned the trip last summer, and booked it in October. Then, as Tracey put it, “the incidents started to pile up.”
Their concern started to grow with the Volgograd bombings, when terrorists blew up a train station and a trolleybus over a two-day period at the end of December. But “the straw that broke the camel’s back,” Tracey says, was the State Department issuing a travel alert for Russian nearly two weeks ago.
“When the State Department advisory came down, that added credibility to our already percolating fear,” she told me. “We thought, you know, maybe this trip isn’t the right thing to do – we could be victims of terrorism, or caught in a maelstrom of terrorism, and be stuck there. And now we have to put our trust in the hands of Russian security specialists? Mmm, not so much.”
And now, since Tracey and her husband began their attempt to cancel their plans, there’s talk of a “black widow” suicide bomber already inside the Olympic security ring at Sochi, and the US military announced that it will be positioning ships and planes to evacuate American officials and athletes – but not tourists – from the Olympics, if necessary.
“I find [Delta] to be insensitive to the concerns of a traveler”
“Almost literally every day, the story gets scarierer and scarier and scarier. It’s not ‘if,’ but ‘when’ something bad happens,” she said.
Tracey says that it’s “breaking our hearts that we can’t go,” but the safety of her kids comes first. She had less kind words for Delta.
“I find them to be insensitive to the concerns of a traveler,” she told me. “I’m not someone deciding on a whim. I wish I could go. If we didn’t have the kids, we would. But I’m not putting the children in harm’s way. It’s not a vacation anymore.”