For Janet and Robert Rosenzweig, their 50th wedding celebration was a once-in-a-lifetime, round-the-world, private jet tour with National Geographic.
Over three weeks during the fall of 2017, they enjoyed five-star hotels and restaurants, and the incredible sights and sounds of places like Easter Island, Samoa, and for their last stop, Morocco.
Just before midnight, on their final night of an 11-country tour, Robert began to feel severe chest pains in their Marrakech hotel room. The couple called up the private physician that National Geographic assigned to travel with the group of about 70 travelers.
An emergency room doctor from Boston, he first administered indigestion medicine to see if the symptoms had something to do with the sumptuous final evening meal the Rosenzweigs had enjoyed earlier. (Robert, 71, and Janet, 69, both had regular semi-annual checkups, and neither had ever been diagnosed with heart issues.)
“The doctor asked me, ‘How are you feeling now? Any better?’” Robert Rosenzweig, remembers. “I told him no, that my chest felt very tight. He realized, at that point, it wasn’t indigestion.” The doctor informed the Rosenzweigs that he was calling their insurance company and getting an ambulance.
At the very private, upscale hospital down the street from their hotel, Robert Rosenzweig felt like an “elephant was sitting on my chest.” The hospital doctor, a Moroccan who had earned his degree in France, informed Robert that he had an artery that was 98 percent blocked, and that Robert needed to have a stent inserted immediately.
The procedure, using the most advanced modern equipment and the latest techniques, went smoothly. But when Robert rose the next morning, he needed three days of recovery time at the facility, while the rest of the tour group was boarding their private jet back to the U.S.
Furthermore, the doctors informed the Rosenzweigs that Robert would need another 3-4 days’ rest in Marrakech before returning to the U.S.
Their travel agents jump in
Lucky for them, under the guidance of their longtime agents, Hermes Travel, Astoria, New York, the Rosenzweigs had purchased a premier travel insurance plan, a $10,000 policy for the $160,000 trip, with $1 million in emergency medical coverage for each of them.
“They were traveling to some remote places over the three weeks, and given their age, we discussed with Janet and Robert the importance of making certain they had sufficient coverage,” said Nancy Damianeas, who owns and manages Hermes Travel with her mother, Joanna Papaspyropoulos-Damianeas.
As Robert was undergoing his treatment, Janet contacted Nancy about the situation via her personal cell phone. Nancy was attending a travel industry conference on a cruise ship. Working with her mother back home in New York, they began reviewing the Rosenzweigs’ insurance, and educated the frazzled Janet about her coverage.
“I was alone, a little scared for Robert, in a country where English isn’t their first language,” Janet Rosenzweig said. “It was very comforting to have Joanna and Nancy on the phone, taking care of us.”
Having a travel agent paid off immediately. The hospital had asked for payment upfront for Robert’s stent and recovery time. Damianeas helped Janet and the National Geographic doctor work with the facility to understand that the Rosenzweigs’ insurance was primary coverage, that the Rosenzweigs had met all of their requirements, and that the hospital should be working with the insurance provider directly for payment.
Otherwise, the hospital was prepared to bill them tens of thousands of dollars – either to the Rosenzweigs’ credit cards, or have it withdrawn from their bank account.
“My focus was on Robert’s health. We paid for the trip in three parts, months and months ago, so we didn’t remember when we paid for the insurance after the initial trip deposit,” Janet Rosenzweig said. “Because Hermes is so organized with their paperwork, they knew.”
Medical expenses weren’t their only concern
While Robert was recuperating, Janet stayed at the $1,000-a-night hotel where they were staying with the National Geographic group. It was close to the hospital, and the hotel was providing a car service to get Janet to and from the hospital on her daily visits. However, like the hospital, the hotel also was concerned about reimbursement.
Once again, Hermes Travel educated the couple about their coverage. In this case, the Rosenzweigs were obligated to charge their credit card, but could seek reimbursement up to $750 a night per person from their insurance provider when they got home.
“The insurance company kept trying to direct us back to the requirements about when we paid the policy, and we weren’t experts to understand all of this,” Janet Rosenzweig recalls.
At this point, the assistance the couple received from Hermes was more than the expertise and knowledge of travel insurance. It was their lifeline to people who knew and cared about them.
“It was all extremely emotional. The whole group had left and I was by myself. It was good to have people long-distance who cared for us,” Janet Rosenzweig said. “That was key, having Nancy and Joanna’s compassion. We were their priority.”
When Robert was discharged and moved to the hotel, negotiations now began for getting the couple back to the U.S. The Moroccan doctor insisted that Robert have a nurse accompany him on the flight home, in case he had any complications inflight. Arrangements were made to fly one from the U.S. to Marrakech, but the insurance company was resisting paying for it.
The Rosenzweigs placed a call to Hermes Travel. Later that day, they got a call from their insurance rep. “We just spoke to your travel agent. She is advocating for you. Yes, we will fly a nurse from Florida to Morocco,” Robert Rosenzweig remembers.
“Anytime we needed something, the insurance company would say no. Nancy would say, ‘Okay, I will call them and call you right back,’” he added.
Robert Rosenzweig was booked in business class on his flights home, to accommodate the nurse and all of the medical equipment he would need. However, the insurance company was booking Janet Rosenzweig in coach. Once again, the Rosenzweigs placed a call to Hermes Travel.
“The insurance company fought tooth-and-nail. Nancy just fought back. If we didn’t have Nancy, Janet would have sat in the back of plane,” Robert Rosenzweig said.
Having been trained on this insurance company’s policies, Damianeas knew that since the Rosenzweigs had flown in a private jet for the tour, Janet was entitled to have a business class seat near Robert, paid for by the insurance company.
Additionally, the insurance company wanted to book the couple on a 3-stop, one-day itinerary, Morocco-Europe-New York-South Carolina. “We requested a better route and an overnight at JFK to allow them to rest. After all, the insurance sent a nurse to fly from Morocco all the way to South Carolina with Robert, because of his condition. Why would they have the patient struggle?” she said.
Home safe and sound … and advocates for travel advisors
It was only by chance that the Rosenzweigs even met Nancy and Joanna. They were retired and living in South Carolina a few years ago, when they were researching a vacation to Cyprus. While visiting a Cypriot restaurant on a trip back to Astoria, Queens, where Robert once lived, they spoke with the owner about their travel plans.
“He told us we shouldn’t try to plan this on our own, that we should use his travel agent,” Janet Rosenzweig said. “He practically walked us to their offices after we finished our meal.” They have been working with Hermes Travel ever since.
Janet Rosenzweig cannot thank her travel agents enough, and wants every traveler to think first before booking a trip themselves. “I don’t know what we would have done without Nancy and Joanna. They were constantly there for us, advocating for us,” she said.
Damianeas says she did nothing more than she would do for any of her clients. “Janet was scared, alone, nervous. We were there to make sure they could utilize all their policy’s inclusions – every last one – and that the insurance company would be present, via email and phone/text, throughout,” said Damianeas. “We wanted to take care of Janet, and make sure her experience could be as good as can be, amidst this troubling time.”
Damianeas also praised the insurance company for stepping up when they did, including copying her on all of the emails back and forth with the Rosenzweigs. “We just wanted what was fair for Janet and Robert, and that’s what happened,” she said.
While Robert Rosenzweig praises Hermes for their efforts, he also wants every traveler to ensure that they purchase travel insurance before embarking on their next trip. “You don’t think something can happen to you, until it does,” he said.