Thanks, COVID-19

I was scheduled to travel to Hong Kong in April to watch the Hong Kong Sevens rugby tournament.  It’s a “bucket list” trip for me and I was looking forward to visiting Hong Kong for the first time.  I also purchased the trip as a gift to myself for my fiftieth birthday, so I splurged and chose the swankiest ticket package available short of renting out a suite.  I’m staying at a fancy hotel nearby, too.  I enjoy traveling and try not to get too excited for visiting new places, but I have to admit I was starting to become giddy with excitement for this trip.

After the beginning of the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19 as it is now officially named, I scoured the news for any indication it would impact my trip.  I was nervous when U.S. airlines stopped servicing mainland China, and when Untied Airlines announced they were reducing flights to Hong Kong to once daily I was even more concerned.  The director of the Hong Kong Rugby Union adamantly announced two weeks ago that they were holding the tournament as planned in April despite the outbreak, noting the tournament went ahead in 2003 during the SARS outbreak.

This past Wednesday evening I was browsing through my Instagram feed when I came across a post from the Dubai Rugby Sevens account consoling the Hong Kong and Singapore Sevens tournaments regarding the postponement of their respective tournaments.

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I could not find any information regarding the postponement on any of the sites I expected (Hong Kong Sevens or World Rugby) to corroborate this information.  Interestingly, that Instagram post was subsequently deleted by Dubai Sevens —  probably because the decision had not been officially released at that point.  I did come across a New York Times article suggesting the tournament would be postponed, though.

It wasn’t until the next morning (in the U.S.) that the official announcement was released by World Rugby and the Hong Kong Rugby Union that the tournament was being postponed until 16-18 October.  This was disappointing news for sure but definitely necessary to preserve the health of the players, staff and the fans.

I had to begin the process of shifting my travel reservations to the new dates.  I purchased my tournament tickets and accommodation package via Keith Prowse Travel out of Australia.  I have greatly enjoyed working with my agent Dave there and was planning to reach out to him regarding the process of rescheduling… when he called me and confirmed everything was going to be handled appropriately. Since my package did not include airfare I still needed to change my flights with United.  I decided to call UA on the phone to speak with someone in person.  UA posted flight waivers for existing booked flights but those waivers only accommodated rebooking into June.  I wasn’t really in the mood to pay a change fee for my fare because the HKRU moved the tournament to October. When I first contacted a representative at United I was informed that because the changed flight date was outside the wavier period it would potentially cost me US $200 to change the dates, but the rep did “get permission” to waive that fee due to the special circumstances.  I am unsure who gave him this permission but I won’t complain.  In the end I was informed the change would cost about US $5 to process… but I have not  yet seen that transaction come across on my AMEX account.

I still look forward to visiting Hong Kong in October and hope that I can contain my excitement until then.  I also hope that there are not many more deaths from people suffering in the region where COVID-19 is running rampant.  This outbreak will have a major impact on travel to the region.

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