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.

Landing

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

Look out timber frame on a beach "researching, booking and complaining aabout holidays and flights. Tips, ideas and your rights"

 

 

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.

See Top 20 Tips for complaining effectively.

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!

 

 

 

 

Foreign Office in epic fail on passport validity information

My long journey of confusion – Foreign Office provides conflicting information

Check your passport!

Here’s a story about why it’s important to check passport expiry dates before you book travel. And why you can’t always trust the Foreign Office advice because it’s a mess!

Have you checked your passport? Beware conflicting information from various agencies!

Not enough time left on passport to travel

A traveller wanted to surprise her husband with a holiday to Cape Verde. Their 10 year old son had kept it secret too, not telling his father until 6 months later when they were on the way to the airport. They went through check-in no problem, they bought stuff from the duty free shops and went through passport control. All of them were looking forward to their week away. Her story is on Trip Advisor

Imagine the disappointment when staff at the gate told them they couldn’t travel! Their son only had three weeks left on his passport. What is the issue? Well, the family were travelling with Thomas Cook. Thomas Cook’s documents advised them that they should follow the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) guidelines for travel to Cape Verde. The FCO website stated only that passports must last the duration of the stay.

The Complaining Cow investigates passport problem

Then The Complaining Cow realised she was in exactly the same situation! Yup! My family and I were due to travel to Cape Verde less than a couple of weeks’ later. My son’s passport also had fewer than 6 months left on his passport, so I began to panic a bit!

We couldn’t even get a FastTrack passport (at exorbitant cost) because for children you have to allow at least 7 days for processing. With the Easter bank holiday included it meant we simply didn’t have enough time. So, I set about trying to get some clarity. That was less straightforward than you would think! We were flying with TUI UK (formerly Thomson) so I started with them and asked if we were okay to fly…

Who said what about how much time needed on a passport in order to travel

OrganisationAdvice providedAgree with Cape Verde Embassy?
TUI customer services ‘phoneFine with them, if I can get letter from Passport Office to say acceptable.Yes
TUI customer services emailYes, you can travel.Yes
TUI Twitter teamWe recommend all passengers have at least six months remaining on their passport prior to travel as it covers all destinations we offer however, each destination has different requirements which can be found on the GOV UK website. As per the GOV.UK website, passports must be valid for a minimum of six months from the date of entry into Cape Verde.No
Thomas CookYes, you can travel for the remaining Summer flights (not ceased until Winter).Yes
Passport OfficeDo not do this, not their role, advised contacting the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.Couldn’t give advice
FCO website“The authorities in the country or territory you’re travelling to are responsible for setting and enforcing the rules for entry.”

“Your passport should be valid for a minimum period of 6 months from the date of entry into Cape Verde.”

Yes

 

 

No

FCO on phoneContact the Honorary Consul to Cabo Verde in London.Don’t know
Consul to Cabo Verde in LondonIncorrectly advised to contact him, contact the nearest Cape Verde Embassy in Rotterdam or Brussels.Couldn’t give advice
FCO emailOur travel advice is updated whenever we become aware of new information. The authorities in the country you are travelling to are responsible for setting and enforcing the rules for entry.  Contact the Cape Verde Embassy in either Brussels or Rotterdam and seek their advice.Yes but advice on website is contradictory
FCO Consular Contact CentreThe Travel Advice team updates their pages as soon as they have official confirmation of a change. Whilst we understand that this change does not allow much time for a potential passport application, the British Consulate cannot confirm entry to Cape Verde contrary to our own current travel advice.Refers to website info which is Yes… and No
CV consulate in Brussels emailPassport for entry and exit from the territory, valid for a period superior to the authorized stay duration.Yes
CV consulate Brussels websitePassport for entry and exit from the territory, valid for a period superior to the authorized stay duration.Yes
International Air Transport AssociationIn general, airlines follow the regulations set by each country in terms of the requirements for entry into or transit through the appropriate country.Yes
IATA websitePassports need to be valid for six months from arrival.No

 

Ridiculous. So, TUI customer services on the phone, the TUI social media team and customer services email teams all said something different. The FCO has shown itself to be utterly useless in providing basic information to travellers!

Conflicting advice from various bodies regarding ability to travel with short time on passport

There seems to be no reason for any change in advice. According to Thomas Cook the FCO changed its advice in line with the International Air Transport Association (IATA) website Timaticweb (https://www.timaticweb.com). This states that passports need to be valid for six months from arrival in Cape Verde. There has been no change in the advice from authorities in the country being visited whatsoever. So, the FCO says “Our travel advice is updated whenever we become aware of new information.” But no-one can tell me what the new information was!!! Maybe it was the IATA. The IATA said to me:

“It is the responsibility of the air traveller to ensure that they have sufficient travel documents for their destination and any transit points.  In general, airlines follow the regulations set by each country in terms of the requirements for entry into or transit through the appropriate country, however in certain circumstances airlines may make exceptions in the case where the immigration authorities do not or rarely enforce applicable regulations.”

But that contradicts what they appear to be saying to airlines.

A Thomas Cook spokesperson said:

“We recognise there is inconsistent information around entry requirements for Cape Verde and we appreciate the confusion this causes for our customers. The FCO has recently changed its advice to align with the International Air Transport Association (IATA) website Timatic, which states that passports need to be valid for six months from arrival in Cape Verde. Due to the conflicting information and change in advice, we have advised all our UK departure airports to allow customers to travel whose passports are valid for less than six months, but valid for the duration of their stay, for the remainder of this season. For the Winter 18/19 season, we will ensure all our customers are aware that their passports need to be valid for six months from arrival in Cape Verde.”

IATA said:

“The regulation that passports must be valid for a minimum of 6 months from the arrival date has been published in Timatic since December 2016.  We have verified this several times since with both the immigration departments and airlines, and it has not changed since then.”

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office said that it updates information when it becomes aware of it. Aside from the fact that it actually has contradictory information on its website, is it possible it only became aware of the IATA change 15 months later?!

Travelling and checking passport times

Whatever way you look at it, the safest thing to do whether travelling to Cape Verde or anywhere else is to ensure that your passport has at least 6 months left to run!

Look out timber frame on a beach "researching, booking and complaining aabout holidays and flights. Tips, ideas and your rights"

 

For links to various articles about pre, during and after holiday advice about rights etc see All you need to know about booking/complaining about holidays/flights.

 

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For masses of information, advice, real life examples, tips, template letters, consumer rights and laws…

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