HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hawaii residents traveling to Japan have had to wade through complex and confusing rules and restrictions - as they try to cancel or reschedule their trips. So, we asked the travel pros to give us the best advice for customers.
At Panda Travel in Kapahulu, phones have been ringing off the hook.
One agent overheard on the phone says, "Just let us know you're confirmation number and we'll be more than happy to process your refund for you."
The Japan crisis has doubled the load for these agents. Hundreds of Hawaii customers are canceling trips there - as airlines become more flexible.
Panda Travel's John DeFreitas says, "They're allowing, either for a free change, or travel up until certain dates in April. You can cancel and get a full refund." I asked, "Even if you have a non-refundable ticket?" "Correct," he replied.
Each airline differs, but as of today, if you want to cancel your trip to Japan, passengers can get the following full refunds: on All Nippon Air - full refunds for travel between March 11th and May 31st. Japan Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines – full refunds for travel between March 11th and April 10th. Delta and United - the ticket fully refundable for travel between March 11th and March 31st.
All tickets had to be purchased before March 11th. Travel experts warn, though: airlines could change their policies at any time, so it's best to check first and don't procrastinate. Travel agents also recommend checking with hotels in Japan about their cancellation policies. Many hotels are waiving fees, as well, but it's best to check either directly or with your agent.
"It's been crazy!" says travel agent Mika Kobayashi.
She works at JTB Travel in Honolulu – where they've been working overtime - advising their customers on a case-by-case basis.
Kobayashi says, "Probably over 100 will be, more than 100 cancellations for the airlines, and we have two big groups to go Japan this week and next - high school students. It's canceled."
One of those schools is Saint Louis. A dozen students planned a spring study break in Japan, but the school erred on the side of caution, pulled the plug, then made the best of it.
"It's a good learning lesson," says St. Louis development officer, Tim Los Banos. "Always be aware, the global piece on this is: things happen on the planet and everybody's interconnected - so they're really understanding, 'Wow, this really does affect me'."
The students got their money back and will hopefully go next year.