Eileen would tell you that she is just an ordinary person, without GCSEs or formal legal training, but it is there that “ordinary” ceases to be a valid description. Eileen is one of many people who each year are served up a bad deal by the travel industry.
This is a massive industry and although most holidays are perfectly OK, even a small percentage going wrong still results in a considerable number of holidays customers receiving very poor value for money. For those people the fact that 99% of holidays go off without a hitch is no compensation. Their holiday is often ruined.
Given that the percentage of dissatisfied customers is quite small, you would think that the tour operators and travel agents would, for the sake of the industry, fall over backwards to put things right. Sadly, nothing could be further from the truth. The response to complaints is almost invariably denials, bluster and frequently, downright untruths. It is also our experience that the bigger the company, the less likely it is that one will get any sympathy. Small companies care a lot, internet giants couldn't give a damn. Thomas Cook lives somewhere in the middle.
Along with ten others, Eileen booked her holiday to Egypt with Thomas Cook. The glossy brochure promised the usual attractive facilities. What it did not explain was that the hotel had a serious problem with rats and many of the listed facilities fell well short of the brochure description. Eileen and her party complained in the resort and later when she returned to UK. In the resort she received no satisfaction (you can’t reason with rats or the average holiday rep!) and on her return to UK her complaint was met with the usual set of denials out of the book of standard letters used to deal with complaints. The theory is that if you give all offices a book containing a number of standard letters containing the best platitudes and excuses, they can just change a few details before sending them out. The majority of complainants will then go away. Sadly, this system works and the majority do just go away.
Eileen did not go away, she contacted Travelwatchdog.com for advice. Seeing that she had a strong case we advised her to seek proper compensation from Thomas Cook, sending her claim by recorded delivery letter (e-mails are too easy to lose!) Thomas Cook continued to deny liability so Eileen submitted her claim through the court system. Faced with this more formal approach, Thomas Cook set their lawyers to work to prepare a defence. Thomas Cook don't spend a great deal on lawyers and this defence was really of primary school standard, claiming:
a. Eileen does not have a justifiable claim.
b. If Eileen does have a claim you cannot hold Thomas Cook liable as the accommodation is the responsibility of another company: namely AirTours. (Who owns AirTours? Oh Dear! It’s Thomas Cook.)
c. Eileen cannot claim on behalf of the whole party as she was not the lead booking. (Legally this point was valid. However, Thomas Cook may eventually regret labouring the point as the others in the party will all claim individually and there could be additional costs).
d. The hotel was OK, clean and within the standards expected of a hotel with its rating. (If the Thomas Cook standard accepts rats as part of the package there is a good reason for going somewhere else!)
e. Only 40% of the holiday cost is accounted for the hotel, with 60% being the cost of flights. This is a totally spurious argument used a lot by ABTA. Following this argument to an extreme, if you book a holiday and end up sleeping on the streets of Istanbul for two weeks because the travel agent didn’t book the hotel for you, you can only recover 40% of the cost because to get to begging for scraps on an Istanbul street Istanbul you had this lovely flight for which you should be made to pay.
Eileen’s case was dealt with at Northampton County Court by District Judge Glentworth. The Judge awarded Eileen £410 being the cost of her holiday, plus £100 costs. Eileen’s case did not involve a very large sum of money, but the principle confirmed by the award is very important to the holidaymaker. Travel agents and tour operators who take your booking have a duty of care equal to that of any other supplier of goods and services. They cannot get away with blaming those at the other end of the chain who fall below the standards. Before a tour operator sells holidays to a hotel, they have a duty to ensure that the hotel meets the required standards and continues to do so. Moreover, the “Red Herring” so loved by ABTA, about the flight being 60% of the cost just does not hold water and the Judges will recognise the fact. A flight to hell is recognised as being free!
The final message here is that apart from having a great deal of resolve, Eileen may be quite an ordinary citizen but is a great example to others. If you have a legitimate complaint do not be put off even if it means going to the small claims court. It’s not rocket science!