Flying in the face of poor customer service

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 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

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.

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.

Taking off the luggage…

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…


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.

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"

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 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, 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

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

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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.

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!





Why Motor Legal Protection is a rip off and the free alternative

I have asked Lee Jones from Free Motor Legal Ltd to explain Motor Legal Protection, how it works (a sham) and some more about his site. Read on and save yourself £30 a year.

What is motor legal protection?

Motor legal protection (MLP) is also known as legal expenses insurance. In the UK, policies covering motor legal expenses insurance are usually sold alongside the main motor insurance policy as an “add-on”. The typical premium is around £30.00.

The general purpose of the policies is to allow access to legal services and cover the fees of the appointed lawyers after a collision which was not the fault of the policyholder in order to recover any losses and expenses and/or compensation for personal injuries.

The policyholder does not get a choice of the lawyers, these will be appointed by the legal expenses insurer and, in order to receive any advice or assistance, the policyholder must have a claim with “reasonable prospects of success”. In other words you need to have a better than 50% chance of succeeding with your claim, otherwise assistance under the policy will be denied.

So where is the sham?

Well it starts with the cost of the policies

As advised, they generally retail at around £30.00, but the actual net cost to the insurer, broker or price comparison site you are buying the cover from can be as low as £0.50p, yes 50 pence! It has even been known for some brokers and insurers to get the underwriting for free as the service providers used will pay for the underwriting in order to secure the deal. But let us assume the cost is 50p per policy. When that is retailed to the customer for £30.00, it amounts to a mark-up of 6000%. Now that is a pretty ridiculous profit margin for any business, yet we allegedly have a fiercely competitive insurance industry which favours the consumer according to the trade body for UK insurers, the Association of British Insurers.

The fact is, aside from a small handful of standalone providers who retail the policies at a lower amount, the premium of around £30 per policy has become somewhat standard and few, if any insurers want to cut each other’s throats with a race to the bottom when it comes to the price of the add-ons. They can often make more profit from the sale of the add-ons than the actual motor insurance policy itself.

decorated car with added parts

Next are the restrictions on the policies…

which cause households and businesses with more than one vehicle to have to purchase Motor Legal Protection several times over. The general policy wording states that assistance will only be given for claims arising out of the use of the vehicle insured under the main motor policy. So an example would be a household with say 2 vehicles. Husband has a car insured in his name with the wife as a named driver on his policy. He purchases legal expenses cover on top of his policy. The wife has her own car and insures it in her name with the husband as a named driver, but she does not take out legal cover.

If the wife had a non-fault accident in her own vehicle, she could not use the husband’s legal cover to seek recovery of any losses or expenses or claim any compensation if she suffered injury. She would have to either try and claim for these losses by herself, or end up instructing a solicitor under a no win- no fee agreement, which would see her most likely lose 25% of any awarded compensation to the lawyer in “success fees”.

So the insurance industry has this area well and truly sewn up when it comes to households and businesses with more than one vehicle needing to buy this product several times over.

For private cars alone, excluding motorcycles and vans, using Department of Transport figures, there are over 30 million registered cars on the UK roads. For the owners of those vehicles to have motor legal protection covering each vehicle at a cost of £30.00 each, that amounts to £900 Million in premiums! Did we mention that 6000% mark-up? Plus if you add on motorcyclists and van/ light commercial vehicles, the figures are staggering, well over £1billion in premiums.

blue beetle car

OK so the mark-up is a bit rich, but you said it was all a sham

Well yes it is really, because working behind the scenes for 20 years dealing with motor claims litigation for both insurers and independent solicitors has revealed that the policies never truly get “used” or seldom pay out any legal fees and disbursements.

What this means is that the insurers do very little other than earn money from selling the policy, but they get an extra slice of income if the policyholder has a non-fault collision resulting in the need for a replacement vehicle to be provided (credit hire car) or if they suffer personal injury and make a compensation claim.

The reason for this is that for decades, legal expenses policies have just been used as “claims capture mechanisms” in order to refer customers needing vehicle repairs and hire to credit hire companies and for personal injury claims to be referred to a panel of law firms. When this happens money changes hands in the form of referral fees previously and now “marketing fees” or profit shares. These get passed back to the insurer, broker or price comparison site you purchased the policy from. So a nice little earner selling the customer a policy at a ridiculous mark up and then another earner if the customer calls them after a non-fault accident.

The legal expenses insurer can then just sit back and do nothing as the law firms who are on their panel of approved firms have usually agreed never to claim against the policy, even when a case has been lost and they are out of pocket for fees and expenses. Put simply, for the lawyers, the good cases cover the cost of the ones which do not succeed.

This all happens under the veil of the clause in the legal expenses policy which states that cases must have “reasonable prospects of success”. This allows the law firms to vet cases they wish to take forwards and those which they do not. If the case looks like it is lacking in evidence or prospects of success, the law firm can just use the “reasonable prospects” clause to state that an indemnity under the legal policy will not be granted and therefore they do not take the case forwards. On cases which succeed, the lawyers get paid their fees by the insurance company of the at-fault third party motorist.

So this leaves the legal expenses insurer in a situation where they do not need to pay any legal fees, despite the policies often providing “£100’000 of legal expenses costs” because, if the case is no good the lawyers will just not take it forwards and therefore no legal fees will arise. On the cases they win, they will be paid by the third party insurance company, again causing no legal fees to be paid by the legal expenses insurer. If the appointed lawyers lose a case, they have often agreed not to bother the legal expenses insurer and therefore just have to absorb the costs. Either way, there are no panel lawyers knocking on the door of the legal expenses insurer for payment of costs.

Some years ago, the Financial Conduct Authority wished to explore more ways for customers to see the value of the “add-on” insurance products they often purchase, such as motor legal protection. One suggestion was for such insurers to publish payment details of how much and often they had made payments under claims against their policies.

The mouthpiece for the UK insurance industry, The Association Of British Insurers (ABI) were quick to jump in and allege this would not show people the value of such policies and the FCA immediately backed down, duly issuing guidance for a very watered down selection of insurers providing cover for mobile phones to publish such information. Why was this?

Well, in our view, this was because it would quickly expose the racket that was motor legal expenses insurance by proving our experience that these policies cost the insurers almost nothing to underwrite, are sold at a vast mark up to the consumer and then rarely ever incur any financial outlay due to the law firms they instruct agreeing never to seek payment of any fees from them.

car text- How to protect yourself from the motor legal sham

Free Motor Legal Limited

On seeing how the industry really worked behind the scenes, I chose to do something about it and founded Free Motor Legal Ltd, providing British motorists with a free alternative to paying for motor legal protection.

The company was founded in 2012 and allows motorists in England, Scotland and Wales to register for free lifetime membership, shaving that extra £30 a year off their vehicle insurance costs, whilst providing the same basic assistance after a non-fault collision.

The membership is just tied to the member themselves, rather than operating around the use of just one vehicle, so households with more than one vehicle enjoy greater savings.

Free Motor Legal arrange for replacement vehicles and repairs to be carried out without the member needing to claim through their own insurance policy, avoiding the need for any excess to be paid as the costs of repairs and replacement vehicle hire are met by the insurers of the party at fault.

If other losses arise such as lost earnings, medication costs, travel expenses or compensation for personal injury, Free Motor Legal will arrange for one of their panel solicitors to be appointed and these losses pursued from the insurer of the at-fault third party. There is no deduction taken from the awarded losses and compensation and the costs are met by the insurers of the third party.

Like the paid for products offered by the insurance industry, Free Motor Legal Ltd do receive commission payments from some of their service providers, such as hire companies, but they do not charge their members £30 a year to simply pass their details onto lawyers and stand back.

I am not Martin Lewis

Note from me! I’ve done it and you don’t even have to remember to renew! It’s there for life!

See How to save money on your car insurance for more ways to save.

Lee Jones

Lee Jones, aged 43 has been married 17 years to Michelle. They live in Norfolk with a dog and cat.  They relocated from York after Lee was diagnosed with Stage 4 Bowel cancer in Jan 2017 and is on long term palliative care.

Lee worked for law firms and major insurers  as a litigator since the early 90’s.  He started working in criminal law and was a police station adviser duly advising clients in police custody and assisting in Crown Court trials. He then worked for Norwich Union in their in-house legal dept in 1997 until 1999 defending claims against their policyholders. Thereafter he has worked for several Claimant law firms dealing with road accident claims since 1999 until setting up Free Motor Legal, after realising that he could help motorists gain the same services without needing to buy a motor legal protection policy.

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