Dotting the ‘i’s and crossing the ‘t’s is inference to someone paying very close attention to the smallest of details. The irony cannot be overstated in our latest sojourn to Ibiza in the less than capable hands of TUI, who we affectionately remember as Thomsons from years gone past…
I had spent a few hours creating puns for this post but unfortunately I neglected once more to make a note and the little grey cells have let me down again. So instead let me recount our recent vacation booked through our local travel agent, TUI.
As you may have gleaned from my past reviews, we have certain ‘needs’ due to Sue suffering from arthritis for many years, and we go to great lengths to ensure we have all the details sorted in advance. Rarely due I trust a third party to look after us in this respect hence why we mostly travel independently. So it came as something as a surprise that I readily agreed to walk into our local TUI shop and book a late break with Sue and my daughter, partner and new baby son.
The booking couldn’t have gone more smoothly. We picked a resort in Ibiza (reviewed here), and then started to ensure that our mobility needs were both understood and properly addressed by the TUI sales assistant.
We were VERY clear about the transfer – Sue just cannot climb the steep steps in normal transfer coaches, or descend them safely, and on no account would we have booked the holiday if we had been forced to use a normal coach transfer. If we are booking transfers ourselves we always use taxis (or a limo in the case of Mexico) or hire a car.
We do not need adapted taxis – Sue is quite able to use normal saloon style taxis, but not buses with steep internal steps and high curb height, or indeed minibuses that have a high curb and internal steps. Even SUV type vehicles can be difficult or impossible to access.
The representative said that it would not be a problem as TUI’s welfare program provided for taxi’s in both directions. We emphasised again that we only used normal saloon taxis (she must have thought we were obsessed about transfers – but then we are!), and we made the point because a couple of years ago I had booked saloon car transfers with an independent transfer company in Mexico and they had turned up with high step mini-buses which Sue had a very bad experience with trying to get in and out, which she found very distressing, embarassing and injured herself trying to dismount.
We were assured that this would not happen and the booking was made on that basis.
When on vacation we also carry some essential mobility equipment in a small holdall which we normally check in to the hold, but on this occasion although we were approved to carry it free of charge, we were told we would have to take it as hand luggage. This was a bit annoying as we prefer to keep hand luggage to a minimum as we have our hands full just getting ourselves on the plane! But the representative was adamant that TUI rules did not allow mobility equipment to be placed in the hold, as hold luggage carried additional charges.
We had also requested a walk-in shower at the hotel but told this could not be guaranteed.
Sue also need ambilift assistance on/off the aircraft if there is no walkway access, and this was also arranged.
I don’t think we could have been clearer at the point of booking, and knowing how things have gone wrong in the past we made quite sure that the representative was in no doubt as to what our expectations were.
We completed an online welfare questionnaire during the booking and the representative told us she would need a copy of a doctor’s letter confirm her illness and need to carry the medical equipment. We’ve had one for years that has been used successfully with many airlines without issue, and I returned to the store with a copy of the next day. We were told by the store staff that TUI did not actually need a copy of the letter and having confirmed we were in possession of the letter they would ensure that the welfare arrangements would be in place – so a wasted journey back to the store really.
We were told all of these arrangements would be confirmed in writing by email but as documentation started to come through it was clear that none of the welfare arrangements were documented, and as the e-ticket which eventually arrived mentioned bus transfers, I called back into the shop to confirm.
The first assistant quickly read the existing notes on our booking and repeated that the original assistant had made all arrangements and all we needed to do was see the rep’ at the airport in Ibiza. Unhappy with this, I asked for the arrangements to be properly confirmed and another assistant came across and called the TUI welfare dept. As I had suspected, TUI welfare claimed they had no record of the taxi requirement on the system, only the medical bag and ambilift requirement at the airport.
I was then told that the original assistant had now left and her booking records were incomplete and somewhat undecipherable, and when I asked to speak to the manager I was told she was in a meeting and unavailable. The welfare dept conveyed the message that I would need to complete a TUI welfare template document and have it signed by a doctor in order to authorise transfers by taxis. I still had our original doctor’s letter with me but I was told this was invalid as it had to be signed and dated in the last 12 months!
I pointed out that this letter had been successfully used on a regular annual basis with Ryanair, flybe, easyjet, British airways, Qatar airways who had no issues with it. I also noted that the production of a new letter would incur a cost and we would not have made the booking on this basis – Sue’s condition is not going to get better and it is a nonsense to have letters written to confirm this on a regular basis.
With this latest encounter with the store, I wrote a letter of complaint by email and was promptly contacted by the store manager shortly after who agreed to sort out the transfers properly using adapted taxis – and she confirmed this by email. The new doctor’s letter could not be resolved and the manager kindly offered to cover any cost – with only a short time left to arrange the necessary documentation before we departed, I visited the doctor and had a new dated letter produced. The receipt for the letter was passed to the store and reimbursed as agreed.
So all was well at last -or was it?
On arrival at Doncaster Robin Hood airport we were told by the check-in staff that our medical bag could only weigh 5Kg. It weighed 5.5 Kg according to the scales. It weighs less than 5Kg on our own scales (our scales do not register below 5Kg) However we were ‘let off’ as we had weight remaining from our main checked in luggage. At NO TIME were we told there was a weight limit to medical equipment, and it is the first time with any airline we have had a weight restriction applied. Remember that we had been told by the store staff that we would have to carry it on as cabin baggage as the airline did not accept unpaid baggage in the hold. However, at the check-in desk they were happy to check it through into the hold. You couldn’t make it up!
On landing in Ibiza, we tend to wait until everyone else has left the aircraft in order not to get jostled in the rush, and anyway we normally have to wait for the ambilift but on this occasion is was a jetway so we could make our way off the aircraft unassisted. However it is a fair walk to the baggage hall so we waited on the aircraft for wheelchair assistance as promised along with other passengers. When it did not arrive for absolutely ages, we decided to walk to the baggage area – the airport was barren of staff except for two guards at the immigration hall who kindly let us through the barriers to shorten the route to the immigration desks. Had it been steps to deplane we would have had no choice but to wait. It transpired (talking to the other passengers when we returned to the airport for the return flight) that all of the remaining disabled passengers eventually had to make their own way to the baggage hall as wheelchair assistance did not arrive at the aircraft. Not a great start.
When we arrived at the TUI desk in arrivals we were informed that the transfer was by private minibus, which had a high first step and internal steps that Sue would struggle to negotiate. We declined this – politely, although my blood was starting to simmer a little. We were told by the arrivals staff that there are NO normal taxis available in Ibiza and that they had emailed back to the UK frequently to advise them of this.
Our only option at that point was to take a normal taxi (which apparently ARE available for public use, just not for hire directly to TUI) and have the fare reimbursed by the local hotel rep’ the next day.
I would note here how helpful the TUI ground staff were assisting us getting a normal taxi, and their rep’ Mitch kindly text our local hotel rep’ Heidi in advance, to let her know of the need to reimburse our fare.
My daughter, partner and baby grandson had not been allocated a transfer as they had been included on our private transfer minibus (despite the store assistant telling us they would not be allowed to join us and would have to travel separately). Fortunately the ground staff seemed to arrange transport although they arrived at the hotel about 1-1 ½ hours after we did due to other drop-offs.
The next day we met Heidi and she explained again the problem that taxi transfers were not available to TUI staff and private transfers were normally made by mini-bus. I doubt this is the case when wheelchair users are involved. We WERE told however that the return journey would be NO issue because she would arrange the normal taxi herself and could thus GUARANTEE the type of vehicle used. Our fare was reimbursed.
We noted that the rest of our party had not been allocated a normal bus transfer and she undertook to ensure they were properly booked in on the return journey.
We flew back on the Friday and on the Tuesday we received a note under the door from Heidi stating that head office had confirmed our return transfer would be by MINI-BUS, which she had informed them would be inadequate. She asked us to meet with her so she could give us money to pay for a return taxi, which we did.
While collecting the money we again discussed the situation and reiterated to her that we had no problem with locally based TUI staff, but were very frustrated at the misinformation given to us repeatedly by the store and also the conflicting info from the airport based staff. She acknowledged this.
Now full of total mistrust, we asked her to double check that my daughter, partner and baby were properly booked in on the bus transfer as the mini-bus was being cancelled, which she undertook to do. We later received a note confirming that they were all booked on the bus transfer and they should check the pick-up book for further information.
We checked the pick up book the day of departure and it read :
00:15 bus transfer
00:50 Private transfer
As we had received a message via the TUI app stating our private mini-bus transfer was 00:50, we assumed the pick up book was referring to the mini-bus which had been cancelled subsequently, and that the bus transfer was quarter past midnight. The baby would love being disturbed at that time of night…
AT 11:45 I assisted my daughter, partner with their baby and cases and we were outside of the hotel foyer at 00:00, 15 mins prior to pickup as instructed by the pick-up book. The Taxi for me and Sue was arranged for 1 a.m. (booked by myself via the hotel reception, so fairly confident that it would arrive).
We sat and waited. And waited.
By 12:30, it was obvious the bus transfer was not coming and we called the emergency number on the pickup book; the person who answered said she would check with the transfer company and get back to us.
At 12:45, having heard nothing, I decided to organise a 2nd taxi via the hotel reception. My daughter’s partner had recalled the emergency number but could get no answer.
Shortly after I had organised the 2nd taxi, the TUI emergency rep’ called back and told me that the bus transfer had stopped at the hotel at 12:10 a.m. and we had not been there as agreed. She reminded us that we needed to be outside early. So in other words, we were lying, we were late and it was all our fault.
I noted that this was a total lie, that no bus had been on site from midnight onwards and I had already arranged a taxi transfer. She noted I would need to write to aftersales in the UK to obtain a refund for the fare; I noted that this was totally unacceptable and I expected to be reimbursed at the airport, to which she agreed that I could approach the ground staff. Like I needed their agreement at that point. Someone was looking for a roasting!
Our taxis arrived dead on time at 12:55 and we departed.
I have to say, by this time ALL of our party were now very upset and anxious, including our 6 month old grandson who had now been sat in his pushchair outside for the best part of a hour.
We arrived at the airport and during check-in we noted all of the above to the ground staff and she directed us to the arrivals hall where we could get our refund from the TUI desk. She also checked the bus schedule and confirmed that Heidi HAD arranged seats on the return bus. She also organised the ambilift with the check-in desk as she confirmed there would be no covered walkway on this flight. The check-in desk guy looked a bit bemused by this – we would see why later.
The wheelchair assistance arrived and insisted on taking Sue straight through, although we needed to go to the TUI desk first – we had plenty of time. We always travel through the airport together as I like to make sure Sue is safely through the security area and departures without getting knocked over by the stampeding crowd. The rep’ allayed any fears saying that the assistance guy would take Sue to gate 4 (remember that too), where all of the disabled passengers congregated. With that, Sue agreed to be taken through on her own and we would meet her in departures.
We quickly went to the TUI desk and got the refund, where we were told AGAIN that Ibiza had a problem with taxi transfers – despite the obvious fact we had just easily arranged two ourselves. What a farce.
On arrival in the departure lounge, we went straight to gate 4 to find the whole area deserted. Sue did not have her phone on her; I was carrying it and in the rush had not passed it over, so we had no way of contacting her and there were no staff anywhere to be seen. Where was she???
Getting very anxious now, I quickly searched the lounge and after spotting the assistance guy with empty wheelchair and having a conversation in sign language, I eventually found her with the other disabled passengers at gate 14. The plane WAS indeed being boarded by jetway (hence no doubt the strange look from the check-in clerk at the ambi-lift request) as an ambilift was NOT required. Sue explained that she had made the point to the assistance guy that the check-in staff had said 4 not 14, but the assistance guy said this was correct (we later boarded from 14 so he was right – maybe TUI should hire him?
By this time, feeling very stressed over the whole transfer and passage through the airport, I had to take my blood pressure medication as I was feeling unwell, and it took until boarding time for us all to calm down.
We came across some passengers who had been staying at the Fiesta Cala Nova with us, and we quizzed them on how THEY had been transferred to the airport, as they should have been on the 00:15 bus.
We were told that they had been outside the hotel from 11:45 and the bus had arrived at 11:50, quickly loaded them and departed – it had obviously just left as we started taking our cases out. One guest said she had specifically heard the bus crew say that they had left someone behind at the hotel- i.e.e US, but decided not to turn back.
So contrary to the information given to us by the emergency TUI team, we hadn’t been late at all – indeed, the bus had arrived 25 mins early and knowingly departed without my daughter and her family!
Needless to say, a full complaint letter has been submitted to TUI who have so far not responded. They say they have 28 days to respond. They can take as long as they like for me – I warned them that if I didn’t hear anything in 7 days I would be posting the whole episode for the world to read, and here it is.
In essence, TUI had one singular task to perform – organise and deliver the transfers. The holiday administration had been sorted in store, the accommodation is sorted by the hotel chain and flight is completed by TUI airways. So one has to wonder how a company can get such an easy task totally and repeatedly wrong.
I have read on twitter that TUI investigations can take months. Well this is the start of my own TUI advertising campaign. I’ll keep you up to date with developments, if any. I can’t say I’m expecting much other than the standard “We are sorry your are disappointed” stock response.
In a nutshell, the welfare arrangements were a joke, and we have been treated fairly abysmally.
I don’t do package deals because they can’t be trusted with the fine detail, and its too easy for them to shrug their shoulders and move on to the next gullible customer.
This latest episode has just proven to me what I have been saying all along; that independent travel is the ONLY way to travel. If you normally book with a holiday company, try doing it yourself next time. Yes, its a little more work at the start but at least you have the comfort of knowing its all arranged properly and you might find you get a better package in the long run.
Now, I wish I could remember all those TUI puns! They were excellent!
(Rob and Sue’s World Traveller travelled to Ibiza in Aug/Sept 2018 on a half board TUI package deal.)