FRUITPORT, Mich. (WOOD) — It was supposed to be the trip of a lifetime.
“It just seemed like the perfect trip for us,” said Bernie Langlois, 71, a Vietnam veteran who was looking forward to seeing the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall and other Washington, DC-area landmarks with his wife Carol.
The Langloises, who live in Fruitport, paid $2,500 for the eight-day guided bus tour of the wall, Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello home, Colonial Williamsburg, Arlington Cemetery and other memorials.
“I’d give anything to be able to go on that trip,” Bernie Langlois said. “But getting my wife better right now is all that matters.”
Six weeks before the scheduled deportation, Carol Langlois, 68, started having back pain, which soon became excruciating. An MRI showed a 3-inch tumor on her spine. She had cancer.
Doctors said the bus trip was out of the question. Bernie Langlois went to Muskegon-based Airport Tour & Travel, hoping to get a refund.
“I had to ask George if he would consider giving us a refund,” he recalled. “He was nice enough. He just said, ‘Nope. Sorry.’ And I was in such shock, just found out about Carol having cancer that, I didn’t, I couldn’t argue with the guy.”
But a few days later, still miffed about losing out on $2,500, he reached out to Target 8.
“I just thought, ‘Maybe, maybe somebody else out there would help us,’” Bernie Langlois told Target 8 during an interview at his Fruitport home.
Target 8 called Airport Tour & Travel and left a message for owner George Gasahl III, asking why he refused consider refunding the Langloises’ money.
The next day, when the bus was scheduled to return to a Muskegon parking lot at the conclusion of the trip, Target 8 was there. When asked why he refused the refund, Gasahl said the Langlois could have bought travel insurance.
“It was stated in the beginning that there are no refunds once it’s paid in full,” Gasahl said. “We have to pay for all the suppliers, and all of the suppliers were paid. (Langlois) had an opportunity to buy travel insurance, as we all do. I mean, if you buy an airline ticket, there’s no refunds. If you buy any other trip, there’s no refunds. That’s just the way it is.”
Gasahl did say he would consider giving Langlois a discount on a future trip.
Langlois acknowledged the travel company’s correspondence did state that no refunds would be given after a certain date. He also acknowledged he did not take the option to buy travel insurance.
Gasahl said the insurance cost $300 per couple, though Langlois thought it was $600 per couple.
“Why would I want to buy a type of insurance to cancel it? I had no reason to want to cancel it,” Langlois told Target 8. “We didn’t plan on this happening. We thought we’d be on a bus trip right now.”
He said he would consider buying travel insurance on an overseas trip, but not on a guided bus tour to DC, Virginia and Pennsylvania.
But Gasahl said the majority of his customers buy travel insurance.
“Eight percent of my customers buy travel insurance,” he told Target 8. “Several of the people on this trip bought travel insurance … because they don’t know what’s going to happen. They’re older. Things happen, and you buy travel insurance.”
According to the U.S. Travel Insurance Association, travel protection is increasingly popular.
“In 2018, Americans spent nearly $3.8 billion on all types of travel protection … this amount represents an increase of 40.9% from 2016,” reported the association upon the completion of a 2016-2018 Travel Protection Market Study.
“Coverage and protection include annual products and per-trip travel protection, with benefits ranging from trip cancellation and interruption, lost luggage, emergency medical, medical evacuation and various other benefits,” the association wrote in a news release.
In a follow-up email to Target 8, Gasahl wrote that if the Langloises reached out to him, he “may be willing to give him a discount” on their next trip.
“I was really unfair of you to ambush me like that when the bus arrived,” Gasahl wrote. “We were tired and have been on the road all day and then you shine that (camera) light in my eye and start asking me questions with no real regard for the answers. I have been doing trips like this for over 20 years and run a company that is all about the customer service.”
Gasahl went on to point out that the “no refund” policy is not buried in fine print, but clearly stated on the front of the agreement and sign-up sheet:
“It just seems unfair to all the people that did purchase the travel insurance on this trip that you’re asking the person that did not buy the insurance to receive a refund. If we did there (sic), there would be no need for travel insurance….. I personally carry an annual travel insurance policy on all my trips and I am careful to remind people that are booking trips with us or anyone else that you just don’t know what is going to happen in your world and just like car insurance or any other insurance you buy it not because you like to spend the money .. you buy it because when something in your world goes wrong you want someone with deep pockets to be there for you.”
Gasahl said his company offers Travel Guard Insurance, which is part of American International Group, Inc.
“Travel insurance was an option. It was an opportunity they could have taken advantage of and we wouldn’t be having this conversation,” he said.
The Langloises hope it’s a conversation that will help other travelers in the future, even if it doesn’t help them.
Carol Langlois said that if they couldn’t get a refund, she hoped Gasahl would consider a credit.
“A credit would have been perfect,” she said. “It doesn’t matter because hopefully we’ve got other trips in the future coming.”
For now, the Langloises are focusing their energy on fighting Carol’s cancer.