Come on, Irene!

Bon Voyage Managing Director, Alan Wilson, reflects on a busy few days at Bon Voyage HQ in Southampton.

How was your Bank Holiday weekend?  Hopefully you didn’t spend too much of the last Bank Holiday until Christmas stuck in motorways queues or dodging the showers.  We had a fairly eventful few days here at Bon Voyage headquarters in Southampton, not so much dodging showers as trying to help our customers to dodge a hurricane. Our first bulletin about what was then Tropical Storm Irene came through on Sunday 21st August.  By Monday the name had changed to Hurricane Irene but at the lowest level of “category one”.   Not that you would want to be putting the washing out because we’re talking 95 mph winds that were swirling around Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.

But by now we were starting to have concerns for our travellers on the East Coast of the USA.  Being the last full week of the school summer holidays and with a UK bank holiday on 29th August we were looking at large numbers of clients out there up and down the eastern seaboard from Florida to New England, but particularly in Washington DC and New York City.  Added to that, we had dozens of clients due to leave the UK at the end of the week and over the weekend.

As Wednesday dawned and the Bahamas and Turks and Caicos Islands were suffering structural damage and loss of life we woke to reports of a magnitude 5.9 earthquake centred around Richmond, Virginia.  I know from personal reports that day that it was felt in Wilmington, North Carolina 230 miles to the south of Richmond and in Edison, New Jersey, some 310 miles to the north.  To be perfectly honest we did start to wonder whatever next, but the plague of locusts failed to arrive!

One of the features of Irene that we didn’t recall from tracking previous hurricanes was how long she took to do her worst.  It seemed like days that we were wondering where in North Carolina she would make landfall and then more days while the north east states waited on and wondered about their fate. 

By Friday evening we had a plan of action and several of us took paperwork and laptops home waiting for the first flights to be cancelled.  It’s a really tricky business because airlines and airports are anxious to maintain services for as long as possible and from a commercial standpoint they are unwilling to allow passengers to abandon travel plans unless there is a concrete reason to do so. We were pretty sure from previous experience that airports would be closed and flights cancelled – for us it was more of a case of “when” rather than “if”.

By first thing Saturday morning we were making phone calls to tell travellers that their flights would not be leaving the UK for cities including New York, Philadelphia and Washington.  Since they could see on their TV screens that Mayor Bloomberg of New York was urging evacuation from low lying areas, announcing the suspension of the subway and the closure of Broadway theatres, this came as no great surprise.   Holidays were either put on hold or re-booked for the coming days and weeks and the office was a frenzy of activity as we made contact with US hoteliers, car hire companies, the US rail company “Amtrak” and a host of other suppliers to postpone, re-arrange or cancel our clients’ arrangements.

Meanwhile clients waiting to come home from the East Coast had to be re-booked, re-accommodated and reassured.  Sunday was equally busy here as we checked whether clients on touring itineraries clients had made it to their appointed hotels.  Thankfully, in all cases our people were where they should have been.  Then news came through that the threatened water surge affecting Manahattan Island had failed to materialise.  Life there could start to get back to normal.  Other places in New Jersey and parts of New England had not been so lucky.

Bon Voyage clients showed an unrelenting bulldog spirit and were pleased and grateful to know that we were tracking their progress.  Most who were held up over the weekend have new plans in place to get over to the States shortly.  We are left to reflect on the forces of nature and of course our thoughts are with the 40 plus victims who have lost their lives over the past seven days.

At least some things can be relied upon – squally showers over much of the England and Wales for the Bank Holiday and a 15-mile queue on the M25.

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