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Not exactly a holiday from hell, but room for improvement
I'll admit it. I'm lucky. I'm 27, I have no children, a reasonable job, and no costly habits. My clean living and projected prosperity are things I treasure. Therefore, if I want to take my partner on a holiday to Antigua, that's what I will do. Indeed, our trip to the Caribbean in October was one I shall remember for a long time.
Unfortunately, the enjoyment of the location was hampered by incompetence by the travel agent, who also happened to be the holiday operator. Though complaining of a few lost hours sounds petty, those hours could have been spent at the resort, or exploring the Island, and we were there for only a few days in the first place.
Having complained to the rep, who called herself our "Customer Care Virgin", we resolved to bring the matter up with Virgin on our return.
Virgin Holidays Limited
Re: Booking Number 198666/SO1 Re: Invoice Number 13933/1
Dear Sir or Madam:
I have recently returned from a weeklong all-inclusive stay at the Cocobay Resort in Antigua.
The holiday was booked via the Virgin website on the 6th September 2001. The website enabled me to choose from a range of available dates and types of accommodation for those chosen dates. Due to work commitments, it was inconvenient for us to fly directly to Antigua on a Wednesday, and we were aware from the beginning that the flight on both legs of the journey operated via Barbados and would involve a change of aeroplane. The holiday was subsequently booked and we received, via Email, details of our itinerary. I enclose a print out of the correspondence we received from you reflecting the itinerary that we had selected from your on-line booking form
A few days later, we received an invoice, detailing the cost we had paid, along with the details of the holiday. A copy of the invoice is enclosed. I wish to draw your attention to the flight details on this invoice:
12 October 2001 Gatwick to Antigua (via Barbados)
Dep: 10.45 Arr: 18.10
19 October 2001 Antigua to Gatwick (via Barbados)
Dep: 14.40 Arr: 06.30
The tickets arrived less than a week before the date of travel, and on inspection the flight times did not correspond to the flights detailed in both our itinerary and our invoice. The outward flight arrived in Barbados at shortly after 14.00, but the connecting flight to Antigua (via St Lucia) did not leave until five hours later - 19.20 making our arrival into Antigua at around 22.00. Similarly on the return flight, the tickets showed that our flight left Antigua at 12.20 but at the time of booking, I expected to leave Antigua at 14.40.
I found out, during a very long telephone call to the customer care centre, that the connecting flights in Barbados, which would have allowed me to be transported as per the itinerary, had been withdrawn. On reading the conditions of the contract, I note that at point 9 the carrier reserves the right to substitute or alternate carriers or aircraft without notice and further, that schedules are subject to change without notice. However, on speaking to one of the customer care staff (Helen - 6666) I was told that at the time of booking (6th September) Virgin were aware that the connecting flights that would allow us to arrive in and depart from Antigua as per our schedule had already been withdrawn. Essentially, at the point I paid for my holiday, Virgin were fully aware that they could not provide me with the services that I had paid for, and had incorrectly advertised the service. If I had been aware at any point whilst investigating the holiday that I would lose half a day at the beginning and end of the holiday I would not have booked it. On pointing this out and inquiring about cancelling the holiday, I was told that I could only cancel at significant penalty. I decided to go ahead with the holiday, albeit materially different from what I had originally booked.
On arrival in Barbados we had to guess what was required of us to get through to our connecting flight. There was no Virgin representative to make the five and a half hour wait in Barbados airport any more bearable, or to make recommendations as to what activities were available to pass the time. The only Virgin representative I found at the airport was concerned with ferrying passengers onto buses and taxis and was not there to help passengers who were waiting for a connecting flight. Due to the extended wait in the airport area, I incurred additional expense.
We arrived at the resort in Antigua (via St Lucia - a stop that we were not informed of) at 22.30. At this time, the restaurant had closed and as a result we missed our first evening meal, as well as the West Indian Barbecue and Steel Pan Band entertainment that is laid on for the enjoyment of guests on a Friday evening.
On our return journey, instead of enjoying a full morning in the resort as we had expected on booking, we had to leave the hotel two hours earlier than anticipated to transfer to the airport. We also had a longer wait in Barbados airport on Friday afternoon due to the flight leaving Antigua earlier than we had booked.
It is worth pointing out that the Virgin staff in Antigua gave very good service. From the moment we landed in Antigua airport, we felt that we were back in the system. Virgin staff helped make our transfer from airport to hotel as easy as possible, and the representative assigned to the hotel (Daina Abbott) did what she could to ensure that our stay went as well as possible. Daina took details of our complaint when she first met us.
Essentially, my complaint is that we have lost a half-day from our each end of our holiday and were left to our own devices in Barbados without help or assistance. The problem lies, not with the fact that flights were withdrawn, but that Virgin sold me a holiday in the full knowledge that they were unable to provide me with those services at the time the contract was made. I was told that the web-site was showing the wrong information and neither the site nor the booking invoice should have shown that particular flight itinerary, as it was impossible to meet that schedule.
The Virgin staff in the UK were not prepared to make any effort to attempt to get me to my resort on time, preferring instead for me to complain to you after the holiday. This lack of real assistance was hard to accept when, after landing in Barbados and getting through customs and immigration, I found that we would have been able to catch the 3pm flight to Antigua (albeit with little time to spare). We did attempt to get on the earlier plane, rushing to LIAT's desk to ask whether we could swap tickets, but were not allowed to; there was not enough time to go through the conventional check-in process. Had a Virgin representative been given the task of ushering us through airport procedures and onto LIAT's flight, we would have arrived at our hotel much sooner and had a much more relaxing start to our holiday.
Therefore, given the fact that you did not provide me with a level of service commensurate with the price tag and itinerary provided, I would like you to tell me what you are prepared to do to rectify the situation.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Mr Ashley Frieze.
This prompted a response, which shall be discussed later.
18 December 2001