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How to Complain

Cancelled Flights

Remember that gloriously funny email from a Virgin passenger to Richard Branson? He was complaining about the food on a trip from Mumbai to Heathrow: 'What is this?' he wrote, via email. 'Why have I been given it? What have I done to deserve this? And, which one is the starter and which one is the dessert?"

Not everyone can be quite as witty as this anonymous gentleman, but we can all learn to raise our game when it comes to complaining. So, whether you arrived at your hotel to find it a building site or had your flights inexplicably cancelled, don't suffer in silence - or blow your top - just follow our essential tips on how to complain.

  • Do

    1. BE PROMPT IN COMPLAINING.There's no use complaining weeks after you've come home from your holiday; speak up at the nearest opportunity and the issue is more likely to be resolved quickly.

    2. BE CONCISE, CLEAR AND REASONABLE IN YOUR COMPLAINT. This may sound silly, but a rambling list of problems is easier to ignore. Be very clear about what outcome and/or compensation you expect. But be reasonable; not getting a sea view isn't as bad as, say, the roof caving in. A good way to calculate compensation is by balancing the days that were damaged against the cost of the holiday; add any expenses incurred.

    3. COLLECT EVIDENCE. Take photographs, videos and keep a diary of any complaints you have and note the names of any staff members that have been involved. If there are other holiday makers in the same boat swap contact details - a united front works wonders!

    4. KNOW WHAT TO EXPECT. In the case of lost luggage and flight delays/cancellations, airlines, tour operators and insurers have very specific compensation entitlements - know these policies, and who to contact, before you travel.

      For lost or damaged luggage, report the problem to an airline rep before you leave the airport. Get a Property Irregularity Report (PIR) - this is vital to make a claim as you have to post the form back to the airline within a certain (and usually short) time limit. Also, make sure you note the contents of your luggage with as many receipts as possible.

      Compensation for flight delays and cancellations tend to vary. However, it's useful to know that if you're travelling within the EU and your flight is grounded for reasons beyond the airline's control (bad weather, for example), you are legally entitled to hotel accommodation, meals and arrangements for a new flight.

    5. KEEP RECORDS OF ALL CORRESPONDENCE. Send letters recorded delivery, save emails and take note of the names of any staff members you speak to on the phone or in person.

    6. GIVE THEM TIME TO RESPOND. Two weeks is a reasonable time to wait for a response, but bear in mind that if you're complaining to a tour operator that's a member of ABTA, then you could be waiting up to 28 days.

  • Don't

    1. HAVE A TANTRUM. Ranting and raving is very unlikely to get you what you want. If you're on a package holiday, find the travel rep and speak to them - but remain calm and polite. Getting the rep on your side will help you reach an amicable solution. If that doesn't work, ask to see their manager or contact the tour operator head office back home.

    2. GO IT ALONE. Seek advice from the Citizens Advice Bureau or Consumer Direct who can advise you on your legal rights. If the tour operator is a member of organisations ABTA or AITO then you can use their arbitration schemes. If the problem is very serious, then you can go to your local court for information about beginning a small claims procedure.

    3. GIVE UP! If after this time your letters are still going unanswered and your calls ignored, be persistent. Continuously follow up on your complaint until you receive a response. If you're unhappy with what is being offered, warn the company that you're prepared to take the case further (see tip 6).

    4. LET IT RUIN YOUR HOLIDAY. It can be frustrating and upsetting when things go wrong but remember that you are still on holiday. Relax and try to take things in your stride... you don't want to miss the sights because you were too busy being uptight.

Last Updated: July 2009