Sunday 31 August 2008

We lost our holiday, but the travel agents lost their temper!

Oh dear, oh dear, it's all gone horribly wrong.
Early on in my present grieving process I discovered that, at the moment, I am not able to deal well with upsetting people. Sadly, even armed with this knowledge, I have not been able to curtail my natural talent for doing just that.
For the last few years the Snapper and I have made up our fly-drive holidays as we went along, but this year, completely and utterly exhausted after the funeral and the wedding, we decided that for our September honeymoon we wanted something simpler: something that required no brain power whatsoever.
We hadn't taken a package holiday since 2001, and the idea of being flown to and dropped into a nice room by a pool under a blue sky felt perfect.
So off I went into a Galway city centre travel agent, where the helpful woman listened carefully to what I said I wanted, and came up with a self-catering complex in a quiet town in Crete, with flights from Knock.
We booked it, paid in full and felt mightily relieved that we could now forget all about it. A few weeks later we received a letter from the tour company, forwarded to us by our Galway travel agency, saying that our holiday had been cancelled. They had decided that it wasn't financially viable to operate a flight back from Crete in the second week of September. We could go earlier, or go for just one week, or get a full refund.
We definitely wanted two weeks, (this is a honeymoon, folks!) and didn't want to go earlier, as the Snapper had already booked time off work, and anyway, I figured they'd have to squeeze us into an already busy hotel.
So I called the tour company and asked for a refund. They told me that I should call the travel agency in Galway. This made sense to me, because it was the travel agency's name that had appeared on my credit card bill, and at the simplest of levels, it was the travel agency with whom I had dealt.
The Snapper and I were deeply upset about the loss of our Cretan adventure, and suddenly fearful of having no holiday at all. The travel agency said that they would chase our refund, but nobody offered to find us alternative arrangements for the weeks booked, so eager to find an instant and magical replacement holiday that might return the smile missing from my Snapper's face, I found myself going bleary-eyed at the computer, doing just what I had hoped to avoid.
We heard unconfirmed reports that in the UK, there is a statutory compensation payment of something like £20 per person, if your holiday has been cancelled within 28 days of the departure date. I'm still not sure if that's right, but it set me thinking.
I had gone into a shop and bought something that cost me over ¤1,600, and now, I didn't have anything to show for it except a credit card charge that has cost us a decent chunk of interest over the last two months.
I was only out of pocket because the tour company had made a decision to save some money, and I now had to find a holiday fast, and take whatever prices were on offer, so I emailed the travel agency, asking if they might consider some kind of goodwill compensation payment.
To be honest, a 20 quid gesture would have done the trick. Suddenly stressed and poorer than when I started, all I wanted was something to make us both feel a little less let down, a tad more human.
Wish I hadn't! There ensued a bizarre and frankly ridiculous email correspondence that stretched over an entire week. after which I was more than aware that I was not going to get any kind of compensation.
As a person who grew up in the retail industry, I found their attitude truly bizarre. The owner of the travel agency immediately wrote me off as a potential customer, told me to pursue the tour company, and ended up sending me a long list of all the other tour companies who had cancelled holidays in September, leaving holidaymakers stranded, along with the following:
"Not one of these customers has looked for compensation from us ... not a single one."
I have to admit, when I read that, I saw red. Why in god's name were they upset with me? And what was the nasty inference within that '...not a single one'?
That line annoyed me all night long. Clearly this person was upset with me, even though on the phone the next day, they said that they were not.
I didn't want to upset them, any more than I wanted to upset the person at the ITAA (Irish Travel Agents Association), but somehow I managed to do that too. The owner of the travel agent told me that after I had called the ITAA to ask for advice, I had subsequently misquoted and misrepresented the ITAA person in my communication. When I called the ITAA person back, to find out why and what they were upset about, I encountered a voice now both stormy and suspicious.
Blimey! Even though I thought the Snapper and I were the injured parties, I had now managed to upset both the travel agent and the person at the ITAA.
As I said, I'm not good at dealing with upsetting people at the moment. One never wants to do it anyway, but quite how I managed to upset two different people whilst trying to seek recompense for our own stress and monetary loss, I will never fully understand.
There's a lot I don't know, but travel I do know. I've hitchhiked over 200,000 miles; been around the planet twice, lived and worked in six countries on three continents and yet never have I come across such strange reactions to a customer's loss.
Next Tuesday we are flying to Mallorca, where we're staying in a tiny village on the quiet west coast. The owner of our 3 Star hotel sent me an email, saying that my booking was confirmed; that he didn't need my credit card number as a deposit, because my word was good enough for him; and what time would we like dinner?
I wish the travel agencies of Ireland well, but cannot see why I might ever go into one again.

1 comment:

Red Mum said...

OMG that is dreadful, even if they were to say 'sorry theres no hope of compensation' they could have been sympathetic to what happened at the very least to you, after all do they not go on holiday too?

In cases like that they should at the very least understand or pretend to understand how frustrating it is for a customer, who has been attempting to give them money for services.

Feck that, name and shame the companies, your forthcoming honeymoon sounds like a much better idea.

Have lots of fun :)