UPDATE: In a Twitter conversation with American Airlines customer service, I learned I could get full vouchers without having new travel dates. When I called American Airlines to officially cancel our tickets this morning, that customer service representative said our tickets were eligible for a full refund! That’s better news than I was expecting, and I’m grateful for the accommodations that were made. The airline turned out to be more helpful than the travel agent who specializes in humanitarian travel. At least now I know for next time.
We have to indefinitely postpone our mission trip to Guatemala, again, thanks to COVID-19. And we are going to lose $1,800, thanks to American Airlines.
In the spring of 2019, we started planning to lead a short-term mission team to Guatemala with our friends who serve as Bethel Ministries International. We prayed, raised money, collected household and school items to give away, and watched God assemble a team of 12 people – five adults and seven kids. The plan was to build two houses, distribute 50 wheelchairs, and visit about 20 families during our families’ Spring Break, which would have been in April 2020.
A couple of weeks before, as our country and others shut down, we had to postpone this trip. At the time, October seemed far enough removed from the worldwide pandemic. Of course, we’ve since realized that’s not happening next week like planned.
Yes, Guatemala borders are technically open. With a negative COVID test, we could get into Guatemala City. But that’s just too risky for us and the people we want to serve. There are local COVID precautions here in rural Kentucky as well as rural Guatemala where we’d be serving that make this trip not viable right now.
That’s disappointing, obviously, but understandable. One, there’s a risk of having to quarantine in a foreign country with parts of three families still in the U.S. and not with our team. Plus there’s no vaccine yet to offer another layer of protection for us and the Guatemalans who struggled with malnutrition and limited access to healthcare before this coronavirus altered our world.
Making plans these days, especially too many months in advance, is difficult now. So many uncertainties exist, especially when considering traveling to a developing nation with an at-risk population. Of course, this also makes us want to help the more. We’ve been able to send some money to aid Bethel Ministries in the work the missionaries are continuing to do.
With that said, we don’t have dates set for our next attempt at a mission trip. And without travel dates set before the end of 2021, American Airlines won’t refund our tickets in full because of the type of ticket we bought. We were trying to be good stewards of the money people donated and sacrificed for us to go, but now we are going to lose $150 per ticket, so $1,800 total for the 12 tickets we purchased in January, well before we knew COVID was going to be a disruption.
In Guatemala, that $1,800 could provide so much relief. Specifically, the money we are just wasting with American Airlines would provide:
- a month’s worth of food for 36 families,
- six triple bunk beds for families who sleep on dirt floors,
- eight wood cook stoves that pipe the smoke out of the house,
- a good portion of a metal house with concrete floors, or
- twenty-one wash stations that have sinks and holding tanks for water.
I understand COVID has been hard on every single business, ministry, and family in some way. I know people’s livelihoods are at stake. But I also know we have a team of people willing to go serve when the time is right. My hope is American Airlines would just let us leave our tickets open for when we have dates, like a great big team voucher.
The question isn’t if we will go but when. And that’s uncertainty I have to go be okay with. I wish American Airlines could be too.