Have you ever returned from a trip and said to yourself, “That could have gone better”? John and Betsy Salunek did earlier this year, when they got back from a tour of Israel with Gate 1 Travel.

A lot of things went wrong, including an unavoidable weather delay which added to the cost of their tour. But what really set the Saluneks off was the way Gate 1 merged their tour group with another one, which lowered the quality of their experience.

All of which raises the question: What does a tour operator owe you during a delay, even one for which it isn’t responsible?

Can the Saluneks’ trip be saved?

Here are the details from Betsy Salunek:

My husband and I are both clergy. Last winter we took a small group of eight people to Israel through Gate 1 Travel.

On the day of departure we had a big snowstorm. We called Gate 1 and emailed for two days prior to see if the trip was cancelled due to the pending storm. No response.

Finally, on the day of the storm, after being on hold for two hours, we were told by Delta to get to the airport as a group as that was the only way we could be helped. We all managed to arrive at the airport in Philadelphia as scheduled.

The best Delta could do was to get us scheduled the next day for the connecting flight at JFK the same day. We managed to find a wedding limo to drive us to JFK to connect with our flight to Tel Aviv, which cost $400 plus tip. Gate 1 told me via phone, if they had to call everyone affected by the storm they wouldn’t get anything done so there was no call and clearly, I bothered them.

OK, so a few things went wrong here. Gate 1 didn’t notify the Saluneks. It brushed them off when they asked for a reason. Then it basically abandoned them to find their own way to Tel Aviv. That’s no way to start a Holy Land tour.

On with the story.

Imagine our surprise when our group of eight people had four additional strangers added on to our group, two of whom were Jewish and unhappy that we wanted to see additional sites (non-religious in nature and at no extra cost). It seems for them, the issue was control. They wanted to be consulted about every additional site. My husband and I have taken 11 groups to Israel via Unitours and know many interesting things to see historically.

Our guide was excellent but Gate 1 gave no instructions. For example, the food plan we bought didn’t tell us what meals were included or what city. From France to the US, our airline seats were taken and reassigned. Our group was spread out all over the plane. I, for example, was in the last row, my husband in the middle of the plane.

I feel we were charged for a flight we couldn’t use and the additional people…our price was based on 8 people, not 12. Not to mention not even being consulted! I believe they owe my people the difference in price between 8 and 12 people.

Let’s take these one at a time. Gate 1 could have done better with the meal plan notification and certainly could have ensured the group sat together on the flight back home. But a look at its terms suggests there are only minimum group sizes. It is not immediately clear if they would have paid less for a group of 12.

The couple’s travel insurance covered the $400 limousine bill, but not the $80 tip. As for the extra members of the group, I wouldn’t be terribly surprised to find Jewish people on a tour of Israel. And I think it’s all a matter of perspective. If the Saluneks arrived late, then they were probably joining another tour. It is possible the four others felt inconvenienced, too.

Gate 1 offered the couple a $50 credit as an apology. They want more.

I’m undecided about this case, because I think most of what happened to these travelers was outside the tour operator’s control. Certainly, Gate 1 could have done a better job with notifying them of the itinerary changes, and they shouldn’t have been left to fend for themselves in New York during a snowstorm. But do they deserve a refund?

Here are the poll results. I ran this survey from about 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Labor Day.

(Photo i zahorsky/Flickr Creative Commons)