Family face fight for compensation after Thomas Cook Corfu holiday is ruined by bed bug infestation
A Southsea family’s holiday in Corfu ended up a bit of a bugbear for single mum Jennifer Hanley, following being shunned by Thomas Cook for complaining about unhygienic hotel bedding which wasn’t up to scratch – and infested with bed bugs.
For the last 12 years the family had spent their summer break together on the Isle of Wight.
But when the opportunity finally arose to go abroad for their first foreign holiday together, her two teenage children Sophie and Dominic were thrilled at the idea.
She said: ‘I went along to Thomas Cook, my local travel agent, and said we were in their hands. I told them the criteria, the children wanted WiFi, Sophie wanted a pool, and I wanted to be near the beach.
‘They suggested a hotel in Corfu, so we went along with it. It seemed to tick all the boxes, and I thought it sounded like a good holiday.
‘It was described as great value for money offering a friendly, relaxed holiday atmosphere, so I paid the £1,756.26 for a half-board August holiday package including insurance, to the Ionian Greek Island resort.’
But on arrival for their week-long stay at the resort hotel, they soon found it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be in the firm’s Airtours brochure.
They found the general condition and cleanliness of their room left a lot to be desired.
The power would go off without warning so it became a lottery to take a shower, which also leaked and flooded the bathroom floor.
The toilet door had a nasty habit of self-locking, involving a march out of the hotel across a courtyard to get an emergency key to unlock it.
The advertised WiFi wasn’t available in the room and could only be accessed in the hotel reception area.
Despite the average August temperature at the resort of 29C (84F) the bedroom wasn’t serviced regularly, the linen infrequently changed.
The back of the hotel turned out to be a local rubbish tip attracting a plague of flies and other airborne insects.
However, what turned the family dream vacation into a literal nightmare was only discovered when they went to bed and turned out the lights.
On waking up in the morning Jennifer found herself covered in irritating bites, while Dominic’s feet and ankles had also been badly bitten.
She first put it down to the hot Greek climate, and assumed it must be connected with being attacked by mosquitos and insects attracted to the uncovered rubbish tip in the vicinity of the hotel.
They first tried to ignore it and stay out of the hotel, but the routine of spending the night trying to avoid scratching an increasing number of what appeared to be fluid filled blisters soon took the final shine off the holiday experience.
Jennifer tried to find a Thomas Cook rep to make a formal complaint, but there wasn’t anyone on site, just a register to make contact in the lobby.
On returning home she booked an immediate appointment with her doctor as her legs and arms had a linear pattern of inflamed bites, scabs, and scars all over them.
She was horrified to learn that she’d become a feast for bed bugs, a condition she’d never experienced before, immediately prescribed appropriate medication, and advised to hot wash all the holiday clothing.
When she called Thomas Cook’s Airtours complaints team she was requested to send in a copy of her doctor’s medical report and photographs.
August drifted into September, then on chasing her complaint up at the beginning of October Cooks advised her to register a ‘personal injury’ claim with the holiday insurer.
The insurance company were about as helpful as a chocolate teapot, letting Airtours off the hook by insisting there was no evidence she wasn’t a carrier of bed bugs prior to going on the holiday.
Finally to her distress and dismay, in mid-November her complaint was summarily turned down when her evidence was dismissed as being insufficient to warrant compensation for the ruined holiday.
Jennifer contemplated contacting Streetwise for help, and when she got in touch we were both baffled and astounded by the way her complaint had been handled by the nation’s top tour operator.
We took the view Airtours had contracted with her to provide a holiday which had fallen way short of the expectation.
No-one would sensibly go on holiday in the knowledge that their hotel room’s hygiene and maintenance standards were dodgy and become an overnight meal for bedbugs.
The issues raised by her complaint were a matter of contract, not personal injury, and we believed she had every right to request compensation for the loss of enjoyment.
We scoured the Trip Adviser online holiday reviews, and it soon became evident that Jennifer’s criticisms about the hotel weren’t without substance.
A significant number of guests precisely echoed her family’s experience, and we even found another holidaymaker’s review specifically complaining about being bitten by bedbugs during their stay.
We put our concerns to Thomas Cook management, and to their undeniable credit they held their corporate hands up to monumentally mishandling Jennifer’s complaint.
A Thomas Cook spokesperson said: ‘We were very sorry to hear about Ms Hanley’s experience on holiday with us and how her complaint was managed.
‘We continually monitor our hotels to high standards and while we have not had any other similar cases reported, it’s clear we could have handled this better. We want to put things right with Ms Hanley and are pleased she has accepted our gesture of goodwill.’
A relieved Jennifer got in touch with us to confirm Thomas Cook had made her a goodwill offer of £1,000, amounting to around 60 per cent of the holiday cost.
She said: ‘You’ve worked your magic again. Once Streetwise took my complaint up the response was so prompt. It had been dragging on for months, taking forever with everybody just asking for more details, followed by more rejections.
‘It’s not that we were telling lies or anything. It was all so stressful. I just can’t thank you enough.’
Have you got a problem or do you need advice about a consumer issue?
Richard Thomson has worked for leading UK and European companies as a market research analyst, and in consumer education and protection with trading standards.
E-mail him with your question at [email protected] or write to Streetwise, 1000 Lakeside, Western Road, PO6 3EN. Briefly outline the details, and include your name, address and phone number, and include any reference or order numbers.
Answers to questions are for guidance only, and must not be taken as a complete statement of law. Richard also attends the Gosport Discovery Centre every Tuesday between 9am and 1pm.