When holidays go wrong
Nick Trend shows you how to make a complaint when your trip takes a turn for the worse
My two favourite characters in 'Come Fly With Me' -- the spoof BBC documentary about an airport from Matt Lucas and David Walliams -- are Judith and Peter.
They regularly storm out of arrivals in high dudgeon.
"We have had the holiday from hell," is Judith's unvarying opening line, followed by a litany of misfortune and a threat to sue for damages.
What they really should have done, I think to myself, is tried harder to sort things out before their holiday was ruined completely.
Knowing your rights before you travel, and having a few strategies to sort out any problems while away, can often help avoid the need for a protracted argument afterwards.
So, as the summer season gets under way, here are some pointers for Peter and Judith -- and anyone else who turns up at their accommodation to find it is not how it was described in the brochure, has their excursions cancelled, or finds other things which threaten to ruin their holiday.
While you're there
Speak up straight away
Let the operator, agent, hotelier or villa owner know as soon as you become aware of a problem.
They may not realise something has gone wrong, and if you don't give them the chance to rectify it, you will be on weak ground if you decide to claim compensation later.
Be friendly and reasonable
Not only will you stand a better chance during a court or mediation process if you are perceived as having been calm and reasonable, but you are also much more likely to resolve the situation before it spoils your holiday.
In the early stages of a dispute at least, confrontation is probably counterproductive.
Keep a sense of perspective
How bad is it really? Holidays are rarely perfect, and a small thing blown out of proportion can ruin them needlessly.
Keep the evidence
If it is a serious problem, you will need written, photographic and video evidence, and, if appropriate, contact details of witnesses.
This could be absolutely crucial if you have to take your case to court or arbitration.
Dealing with private owners
If you are renting a villa or other accommodation direct from a private owner, or have booked a hotel direct in a foreign country, or made any kind of independent holiday arrangements and paid in advance, your chances of getting redress from a reluctant owner are extremely low -- and probably not even worth following up.
Your best bet is to try the local tourist office while you are still on holiday, and see if they will exert any pressure.
When you get back
If you decide to take things further, write to the company and set out your complaint and what compensation you are seeking as soon as you get home.
Keep things simple: you don't need to tell the whole story of your holiday, nor should you be emotive.
This is a quasi-legal representation you are making based on your contract with the holiday or travel company.
Focus on the main issues and set out why you feel the contract or booking conditions have been breached and why you feel you are entitled to compensation.
The hardest thing to work out is how much compensation to claim. Talking to an adviser from Citizens Information (citizensinformation. ie), or to a friend who tries genuinely to see both sides, may help.
Whatever figure you come up with, make it clear that it is based on a clear proportion of the original cost of the holiday.
If your claim involves personal injury or third-party liability, take advice from a solicitor. Some firms offer a free initial consultation to determine whether you have a good case.
If all else fails
Don't rush into legal action or arbitration. All such services require you to make a reasonable attempt to resolve the issue first.
However, if you genuinely think you have a case and you are being fobbed off with a low offer, or stonewalled by a recalcitrant travel company, even the simple threat of a court case or arbitration will result in a better response.