A South Shields travel agency has said problems dealing with some suppliers hampered its efforts to help customers affected by Storm Ciara.
Graeme Brett, owner of Westoe Travel in South Shields, said its staff had to work round-the-clock over the weekend to rebook and contact dozens of customers impacted by cancelled flights and ferries and changes to rail timetables as a result of the storm.
The agency said it was given plenty of notice by rail companies to contact 42 customers due to return to South Shields from London and by ferry operator DFDS to contact 30 clients due to sail from Newcastle to Amsterdam.
But its biggest challenge, according to Brett, was helping eight clients due to fly with British Airways from Newcastle to Las Vegas, via Heathrow, on Sunday, as part of a Funway Holidays package.
Brett said all eight clients received an email from BA to say both flights had been cancelled. In some of the emails – but not all – clients received a link to click to accept a seat on a flight the following day or to get a refund instead, he added.
Attempts by the agency to clarify that all eight had been rebooked on to the Monday flight proved fruitless, with BA’s telephone line busy throughout Saturday evening and on Sunday.
Brett said: “We tried to get hold of BA but the phone message said the line was busy. We even tried at 3am on Sunday but it was still busy. We eventually got through but we were cut off three times.”
The agency also liaised with UK staff at Funway late on Saturday and contacted the operator’s 24 hour emergency telephone number in the US in a bid to resolve the issue.
Brett added: “We ended up calling Funway’s Milwaukee office on Saturday night and they said they would come back to us on Sunday but didn’t. When we called again on Sunday we were told to sort it out ourselves.”
In the end, agency co-owner Joan Brett accompanied the clients to the airport to ensure they could check in for Monday’s flight.
Brett continued: “We knew some of them had been rebooked as we had clicked the link but we didn’t know about the others. As we couldn’t get this resolved with the operator or airline we had to go with our customers to the airport.
“As it turned out, they had all been moved to the Monday flight but we’ve never had such a stressful weekend. It was horrendous. This storm was predicted and you would expect companies to be prepared. Our clients were very grateful [for our help] but also very stressed by it.”
BA said it could not comment on specific bookings without customer details. The airline said it had been “very busy” dealing with the impact of Storm Ciara and drafted in additional staff to answer calls over the weekend.
Funway sales and marketing director Nick Talbot said the operator was urgently investigating.
He said: “We have already begun investigating what occurred with this booking and will continue to do so until we have a thorough understanding.
“We are absolutely, 100% focused on customer and we will do everything we can to address this.”
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