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U.S. troops ordered to stay up to four additional months in Iraq won’t lose money spent on travel reservations if tickets were purchased from an American carrier.

Though no one knows for sure, the Army believes almost 10,000 of the troops from the Germany-based 1st Armored Division had planned to fly to the States after returning from Iraq. Many already had made reservations, or their families had booked tickets for them. Their orders to stay mean any stateside reunions need to be rescheduled.

The refund deal was the result of meetings between Army officials, management of military contractor SatoTravel and major U.S. airlines.

“They’re going to refund that as long as the individuals get with Sato before the travel date,” said John Allred, leisure contracting officer representative with the Army’s Installation Management Agency in Europe. “If they wait until afterward, then it’s a no-show and they’re not entitled to a refund. That’s key.”

Though the agreement was reached through SatoTravel, Allred said he expects that the U.S. carriers will honor the refunds however travelers booked them.

Troops or families will need a copy of their leave revocation statement or a letter from their commander. There will be no penalties, Allred said.

If troops or their families reserved seats aboard planes, trains or cruises through European carriers, things are less clear. SatoTravel has pledged to intervene on troops’ behalf to help recoup those costs if tickets were purchased through it.

But each case is unique. If the traveler bought cancellation insurance, there should be no problem; the insurance company will cover the cost. Otherwise, SatoTravel will try to convince the carrier that a refund is necessary or just a nice thing to do.

Troops or family members who purchased tickets from a European carrier and using an agency other than SatoTravel, though, will have to grapple with carriers themselves.

“If they’ve gone outside of Sato, they can’t help,” Allred said.

Ann Strawhorn, a spokeswoman for SatoTravel, said that it tries to book its clients on U.S. carriers unless a customer requests otherwise. European operators are more likely to rebook the trip on a future date than to refund the reservation.

“We’re dealing with every individual traveler on a case-by-case basis,” Strawhorn said. “We’ve seen this so many times, and that’s what we’re here for.”

No one is certain just how many times that is, but it’s become routine.

“They have been getting a lot of requests for refunds,” Strawhorn said. “They really don’t know [how many]. We have so many agents working on this. … People like to make their travel plans in advance, because sometimes the earlier they book, the better fares they get.”

According to the Army, about half of the 18,000 Germany-based troops on extended Iraq duty had planned to fly home on leave.

“The gauge was about 50 percent of them were interested in travel, block leave or R and R [rest and recuperation] travel back to the United States,” Allred said. “That’s a significantly high number.”

Many of the remaining half are expected to travel within Europe. Despite those figures, a contract manager with SatoTravel, Andrea Tantillo, said the refund process is not overwhelming.

“It’s running very smoothly.”


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