Agency bankruptcy doesn’t sink cruise plans
April 3, 2008
KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — Dozens of Americans feared they would lose out on a cruise and thousands of dollars each because the off-post travel agency through which they booked their trip declared bankruptcy this week.
However, a bankruptcy lawyer announced Wednesday around 3 p.m. that the cruise line would honor the reservations for a Thursday departure, said Richard Clarke, the husband of a Landstuhl Regional Medical Center nurse.
“Everybody is going to get to go,” Clarke said. “There are a lot of relieved people, but it was a very stressful day.”
The saga with Top TOURistik kicked into high gear this week when a sign was posted on the travel agency’s door saying the business was “temporarily closed.” For weeks prior, customers who had paid for their cruise asked when they could pick up their tickets but never received a straight answer.
“They had to have something going on to know that the tickets weren’t going to be here,” David Gaisford, an Air Force civilian at Ramstein Air Base, said Tuesday. “That’s what’s really disturbing. They didn’t have a solution figured out. They didn’t give us any more information about what was going on.”
Top TOURistik in Einsiedlerhof, which is just west of Kaiserslautern, formally filed bankruptcy Monday without providing customers their cruise tickets.
From Monday to Wednesday afternoon, Americans — including airmen, soldiers, Department of Defense Dependents Schools teachers and spouses — fretted that they would miss out on their 11-day, Costa Cruises voyage of the eastern Mediterranean Sea that leaves out of Savona, Italy, on Thursday. Twenty to 30 Americans lined up outside the locked-up travel agency Tuesday and were there Wednesday morning when Top TOURistik opened its doors.
What is unclear is the status of other customers who have booked future trips with other tour operators through Top TOURistik.
Despite the fact that her business catered to Americans and is adjacent to an Air Force facility, Helga Schmitt, owner of Top TOURistik, said Wednesday she did not speak English when approached by Stars and Stripes.
On Tuesday afternoon, with a gaggle of customers waiting outside for any information from the travel agency, emotions were tense.
“There’s not more that I could say that you could print,” said Mona Faulkner, whose husband is an Air Force civilian at Ramstein.
When Schmitt arrived back to Top TOURistik around 5 p.m. Tuesday she was surrounded by customers who wanted information about their tickets.
“I want my money back, or I want my tickets,” one person shouted.
One American brought a translator who spoke with Schmitt. The cruise line had the customers booked, but paperwork showed that they had not paid. Evidently, the cruise line did not receive the money Top TOURistik accepted from the customers.
On Tuesday evening, with lots of questions and few answers, things looked grim for Air Force Master Sgt. A.K. Roberts with Ramstein’s 37th Airlift Squadron. Roberts’ in-laws traveled from the States specifically to take a seven-night cruise that leaves on Sunday with Roberts, his wife and their two children.
Roberts noted that Tuesday was April 1.
“I think this is a bad April Fools’ Day joke,” he said.