Companies customer service Holidays and transport Laws

Flying in the face of poor customer service

How to complain about a flight when part of a package

As we enter the holiday season we know there will be the inevitable flight delays and fobbing off by airlines and tour operators. Remember the BA and Ryanair debacles last year and in the case of Ryanair quite a lot this year too!? Those events certainly kept me gainfully employed informing people of their rights! But there are other things that can go wrong with flights and you still have rights when they do!

aeroplane in air photo from under

The following is a case that I dealt with recently.

The Thomson booked flight

Paul booked a holiday to Cape Verde through Thomson with his partner. Paul also booked champagne and chocolates for the flight (£34). Paul paid extra to booking seats and to get seats with extra legroom. (£54) Oh, and he paid for a taxi transfer too (£64).

Checking in with Thomson

All fine and dandy huh? Nope. Why? On arrival they checked in at the airport check-in desk on their reservation (remember pre-booked/paid for seats) with no issues or problems. The pre-booked seat numbers were 16A & 16B.

Problems at the departure gate

However, at the departure gate when their boarding tickets were scanned, the scanners flashed ‘Red’; for both Paul and his partner Alex. They were extracted from the aircraft boarding gate queue by departure gate staff/security which was very embarrassing for them. The departure gate staff checked on the computer screen and advised them that the seats they had pre-booked and checked in on were no longer their seats. AND no one apologised for this error. Appalling!

They were then given different seat numbers, sat separately on different rows and again with no apology.  When asked why this was, when they had pre-booked and paid for their seats (and more) and had checked in on these seat numbers with no issue, as the boarding passes showed. They were very rudely told that there was nothing they could do and that either they took the alternative seats or not board the aircraft, again with no apology. Not board? The cheek of it! Having been faced with the embarrassment of being extracted from the queue boarding the aircraft, the abrupt and rude attitude of the departure gate staff, they decided that they would prefer not to travel and asked for their luggage to be removed from the aircraft.

Incidentally, for future reference, they would have been legally entitled to a full refund at this point and compensation for bumping them off the flight in effect because they were not giving them their booked seats. I wonder if the staff were aware of this too? Why do I think that? Because their treatment got worse.

Problems with taking luggage off the plane…

The aircraft dispatcher had arrived, in quite a state of panic, as the aircraft was already around 45 minutes behind schedule. (Boarding had started around 45 minutes late). The dispatcher advised the departure gate staff that the aircraft hold had already been secured.  One of the departure gate staff ‘phoned someone at Thomson.  Whilst this was happening, the other member of the departure gate staff and the dispatcher tried to rudely pressure them to board the aircraft. However, for reasons already mentioned they held firm on their decision not to travel.

The dispatcher said that he would try and get their cases off the plane. After around 15 minutes, the dispatcher came back and said that two passengers had offered to move seats on the plane and would they now board as they were “ruining every one’s holiday”. Despite being so appallingly treated by all the staff involved they decided to board the plane. Upon boarding the aircraft, the passengers on the aircraft started booing and hurling insults at them! Any idea why given that they were the wronged party? Read on…

Problems with the take-off

Shortly after take-off, the number one flight attendant asked for their boarding cards which they handed to her. She didn’t ask anyone else for theirs and nor did they hear anything back from anyone about comparing these with the apparent “other same boarding cards”. So we can only assume that she required them to destroy the evidence. However, despite this, they had the proof that they had the seats 16A and 16B. Because they felt very intimidated by the atmosphere and the non-stop insults on the aeroplane they asked a member of the flight crew to give the two
passengers that had moved, their pre-booked and paid for champagne and chocolates. The flight attendants did nothing to prevent or diffuse the situation on the aircraft and were actually equally as hostile. At no point did anyone apologise or indeed thank them for giving them their paid for drink and chocolates away. It should of course have been Thomson which gave the people who moved a “thank you” present and Paul and his wife an apology gift.


They were obviously glad when they landed to get off the plane. At passport control they were informed by the border officer that they had not applied for a Cape Verde Visa. Paul advised the officer that he had, via the Thomson website, and showed him a copy of the application. They were instructed to leave the desk and go to the visa desk. After waiting about an hour the visas were processed and they were charged 50 Euros for the privilege.

Due to the visa delay at the airport the coach transfer had left, meaning that they arrived at the hotel a considerable time after the coach and so therefore the upgrade to the taxi transfer was a complete and utter waste of time and money.

Problems with the hotel stay

During their whole stay at the hotel they were ‘blanked’ by other passengers who were on the same flight, despite trying to engage in conversation. However, towards the end of the holiday they did manage to talk to two passengers who had been on the same flight. They were outraged to learn that prior to them boarding the aircraft, a flight crew  member had made the following announcement: ‘‘There are two passengers refusing to board the aircraft unless they sit together and until someone moves to allow them to sit together the aircraft will not be taking off’.

Bear in mind that they had actually said they wouldn’t fly and were told that they could as people had moved, plus the facts that the errors were with Thomson and the fault did not lie at their door. This announcement led passengers to believe that they had not paid for their selected tickets. In addition there was no apology or explanation from Thomson for the initial delay plus the delay which it had caused failing to process them correctly. Passengers were led to believe that it was their fault they were so late in taking off.

Having heard this statement, Paul explained to the two passengers exactly what had happened and following this they could not apologise enough. They, along with other passengers, were led to believe that they had not paid for their pre-booked seats. They informed the Thomson’s Holiday Representative exactly what had been said on the aircraft prior to them boarding. They also offered to provide a statement for Thomson when they complained on their return and also for use in the Small Claims Court, if they decided to take Thompson to court.

Paul then made a complaint to the representative, who made a report and also refunded the 50 Euros for the visas.

window of aeroplane looking out to wing "What to do when you have a flight problem"

Thomson complaint summary:

1)      They paid for selected seat tickets which they did not use.
2)      They paid for legroom tickets which they did not use.
3)      They paid for chocolate and champagne which were not used.
4)      They paid for a taxi upgrade which, due to more errors, was a waste.
5)      They received appalling service from Thomson ground crew and flight crew.
6)      They were pressured into boarding the aircraft which legally they did
not have to do because Thomson had not provided the service for which they had paid. The staff were abrupt and wholly unprofessional.
7)      Staff were extremely rude, which was very stressful.
8)      Due to the way staff handled the situation and the inaccurate
announcement made on the plane they had a foul intimidating 6-hour flight, receiving abuse throughout, which the crew did nothing about
9)     Staff did not give the people who chose to move any compensation.
10)   The announcement resulted in passengers on the same flight being rude to them on holiday, so the holiday was also spoilt.

The consumer rights!

Thomson (now TUI) was in breach of the Package Travel, Package Holidays and Package Tour Regulations 1992 Regulations 12 and 13 regarding alterations in the package holiday. (Note that from 01 July 2018 The new Package Travel and Linked Travel Arrangements 2018  came into force). It was also in breach of the Consumer Rights Act 2015 for not providing services with reasonable skill and care. It is also in breach of the ABTA code for not providing high standards and fair terms of trading.

Therefore, in my letter of complaint I was clear in that I expected full refund and redress for the following:

1)       Pre-selected seats: £54
2)       Taxi upgrade: £64
3)       Chocolates and champagne £34
4)       Loss of enjoyment of flight and holiday, stress and upset caused by staff at 30% (of the remaining £1186.40) £355
Total £507

Then I threatened all the usual; ABTA, posting on review sites and Small Claims Court.

As readers of this blog and my book know, I always advise going for more than you think you will get.

This isn’t for the sake of greed, it is to allow the company “wriggle room” to negotiate. You must go for the legal minimum to which you are entitled. In this case the out of pocket expenses came to a total of £152.

Loss of enjoyment is subjective and could be argued in court (the actual outlay was pre-paid seats one way, champagne and chocolates and the taxi, as there is evidence for this). So, when considering how much to go for on top of legal minimum, think of how much of your holiday was spoilt and take this as a percentage of the whole holiday cost. In this case, the flight of what should have been 6 hours was ruined as well as extended, plus the atmosphere in the resort spoilt their time there. We thought 30% was an appropriate amount to go for because no company is likely to give you 100% of a subjective claim.

The redress from Thomson

Thomson offered £252. And, as Paul Lewis says in his review of How to Complain: The Essential Consumer Guide to Getting Refunds, Redress and Results, “She never takes yes for an answer.” So we went back a second time and got a further £100, making a total of £352. That was £200 for loss of enjoyment. In all, a 26% refund on the whole cost.

Further help for complaining about holidays and flights

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See All you need to know about booking/complaining about holidays/flights




If you don’t get success with complaining about an airline you can take your case to an ADR scheme. Most airlines are members of a scheme but  not all. With those that do belong to a scheme, you may have difficulty with AviationADR. See Landing in court with Ryanair for information and links to Which? and The Independent articles and research such as Ombudsman Omnishambles and More Ombudsman Omnishambles.

Which? survey 2019 airlines, telecoms and energy at the bottom for complaint handling

BBC Breakfast 23/08/19 Helen Dewdney discusses the Which? customer service survey

See Top 20 Tips for complaining effectively.



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For loads and loads of consumer laws, advice, information, stories and template letters for complaining about most sectors, GET THE BOOK! How To Complain: The ESSENTIAL Consumer Guide to Getting REFUNDS, Redress and RESULTS!