Social Networking Saves Couple Stranded Without Visas

Bethany Thomas

Social networking saved the day for Bethany Thomas and Dmitri Zagidulin, newlyweds who were stranded in Germany after Expedia wrongly told them that they didn't need visas for their Russian honeymoon, reported USA Today on November 6th.

Thomas, a 30-year-old fantasy writer who writes under the pen name Catherynne M. Valente, and Zagidulin, a 31-year-old computer programmer, were married earlier this month. When booking what was to be a romantic honeymoon in St. Petersburg, Russia, the couple checked with Expedia to see if they needed to obtain visas. An Expedia agent told them no, so the couple assumed they were set for their trip.

The only problem was that they did need visas.

On November 3rd, the couple arrived in Frankfurt and was denied passage onto their St. Petersburg flight for not having the visas.

After contacting Expedia for help, the company denied recollection of the conversation, and offered a $100 hotel voucher. The voucher, which covered only a third of the actual cost of their room, was of little help. The Russian consulate was closed because of a holiday, and their luggage made the trip without them.

After draining their travel funds on unexpected costs and losing precious time, Thomas, an author, logged on to her blog, Rules for Anchorites, and began venting her frustrations. "This is getting to levels of awful I can't even describe," she commented on November 3rd.

Within hours, followers of her blog began rallying for help via Twitter and Facebook, asking for phone calls and emails to be sent to Expedia on her behalf. Less than half a day later, Expedia stepped in to save the marooned couple.

Expedia, who admitted their error, offered a full refund, picked up the tab for their expedited visas and other unforeseen costs, and gave the couple a $3,000 credit for future travel. "That's more than we ever expected, and they really did go out of their way to make it right," Thomas wrote on her blog.

"Apparently at some point Expedia stopped needing to be told what the situation was as practically the entire company has heard about it from all of you," she continued.

"Social media played an important role in alerting us to our error" Expedia customer service senior director Thomas Seibert told USA Today.

Adam Anderson, an Expedia spokesman told USA Today that the couple should have been directed to the U.S. State Department's website, and that the agent "acted contrary to our policy, practice and training. Obviously the agent was trying to help, but unfortunately got it wrong."

Expedia plans to use Thomas and Zagidulin's case to look for ways to improve their efforts in the future.

Some are hailing this incident as a triumph for social networking.

After the ordeal, a thankful Thomas wrote on her blog, "Can you even imagine that? That as a group, in the middle of the night, you can make such a difference."

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