A stranger on my bus tour made me sick. Can I get a refund?


When Gayle Hackner takes a Trafalgar bus tour throughout Spain and Portugal for 13 days, she is disgusted that a man and his young son in adjacent seats appear to be sick. Their constant coughing irritates her. The last straw comes when she becomes ill on the last day of the tour.

Now that she’s home, she wants to know if a refund is possible.

This case highlights the harsh reality of touring on a bus filled with 50 strangers — none of whom have undergone any type of health screening or approval prior to boarding.

“The bus was filled with 51 people — capacity is 52,” Hackner remembers. “My seat was assigned. This father and his 10-year-old son got completely sick and I had no choice but to sit next to them since the bus was full.”

And as the days went by things did not improve.

“The son was hacking every few minutes for three days,” she lamented. “I think he covered his mouth only some of the time. Then on the last day I got a cold and my cough started. I struggled to make it home from the tour. The bus shouldn’t have been so crowded so I could have taken another seat.”

Hackner’s description of her “vacation” certainly could not be considered a rousing endorsement of Trafalgar Tours or bus touring in general.

Bus tours by nature are crowded and place you in close proximity to strangers for long periods of time. It is inevitable that some of these people may be annoying — or even worse, endanger your health.

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But is it the responsibility of a tour company to ensure that all travelers are perfectly healthy?

I went to Trafalgar’s terms and conditions and read through the many pages. (Note: The link prompts you to download the terms as a PDF, rather than making the document viewable online.) I could find no mention of any health requirements for travelers. In one area of this document, it instructs the traveler that they must make sure that they are fit for travel.

It appears that Trafalgar relies on passengers to self-report if they are unwell.


Since this document goes on to say that if a traveler is unfit to participate, they will be removed from the tour and will receive no compensation, it’s unclear what the motivation would be for a traveler to report their illness.

In fact, in the Frequently Asked Questions on Trafalgar’s website, the company simply advises anyone who is suffering from “any form of illness” to make sure to bring enough medication for the entire length of the tour.

Hackner’s primary argument was that she was assigned the seat beside this father and son and that the tour bus was overcrowded, leading to her eventual illness. For these reasons, she believed that she was entitled to some type of compensation.

Unfortunately, her Trafalgar contract does not support this assertion.

In multiple places, Trafalgar points out that there are inherent risks with participating in a tour and that the company is not responsible for the illness or injury of a passenger unless Trafalgar’s negligence is proven to have caused the condition.

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I am not sure that placing the father and son coughing duo near Hackner would be considered negligence. Afterall, Hackner continued with the tour without making an official complaint for the entire 13 days.

And nowhere in the contract does it say that the tour bus will be operating at less than capacity. It is unclear why Hackner believed that her bus should have been less crowded. Trafalgar is in business to make money — if there are 52 seats on the bus you can be sure that those seats will be filled if the company is able to sell them.

In the end, we could not help Hackner with her quest for a refund. There is no way for her to prove the origin of her illness. Traveling internationally will expose you to a multitude of germ possibilities.

And although this father and son are the most obvious culprits, it is impossible to pinpoint where she picked up her illness. Her condition may have had nothing to do with her chosen suspects.

If you have a grievance on an organized tour, it is critical to make it known at the time. This will give the company an opportunity to correct the situation or at the very least make a record of your complaint. Once your tour is over and you are home, it is impossible for the company to properly investigate or remedy your issue.

We are happy to hear that Hackner is on the mend now, and we hope that her next vacation is free of coughing little boys who refuse to cover their mouth. But as anyone who travels knows — that can never be guaranteed.

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Michelle Couch-Friedman

Michelle is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, consumer advocate, writer and photographer who spends as much time as possible exploring the world with her family. She is Advocacy & Editorial Director at Elliott.org.

  • kimber

    While it’s possible that she picked up the illness from the other two passengers, it’s also possible that she got it on the airplane, by touching a door handle and then her face or a million other possibilities. While I agree that it’s important to try not to expose others to your illness, you can’t know where you got it and there are protective measures to take for yourself to avoid picking up someone else’s cold. I always take an anti-bacterial wipe and clean everything that I will touch on the plane – haven’t gotten a cold since and I used to get one every time I flew. Some people look at me like I’m crazy, but most people say they wish they had thought of it.

  • Annie M

    Oh come on! I get sick every time I fly from someone who is sick. How does she know she didn’t get sick from the lousy air on the airplane? If it was so terrible why not say something to the guide – he could have move the hackers up front so the coughing was near the front door.

    She stayed on and enjoyed the entire tour, slept in the rooms provided and ate what ever meals were provided. This did not affect her at all until the last day. You must let the tour operator have an opportunity to fix the problem while you are traveling- then if they can’t you have a reason to file a complaint. But if you say nothing you have no proof of your complaint.

    It also goes to show perhaps she didn’t do her homework when choosing a tour company. The less expensive tours are less expensive because they take 50 people on their buses.

  • Donald Filiault

    Good answer. My Spouse and I took a Transatlantic Cruise in May, followed by a 13 day Trafalgar escorted tour of Italy, and we were just discussing how lucky we were to do 30 days of flying, cruising and bus touring without either of us being infected. Even though we’re both healthy, this was quite unusual, and we considered ourselves lucky, at least this time. Trafalgar does accommodate more passengers than some escorted tour companies, but we’ve been on tours where there were no more than 35 passengers, and someone who had a bad cold managed to pass it on to most of the bus.

  • The Original Joe S

    Ptomaine Ptours – sign on and blow it out your back pocket!

    So, if someone tells the tour dirtbags that he’s sick, they’ll kick him off the tour and not refund. They really care about their customers, hah? DON’T GO WITH THOSE PEOPLE!

  • DReid

    She sounds very hypocritical to me. Didn’t she fly home when she was sick and probably sitting next to people, thus possibly infecting others? Oh my, why didn’t she cancel her flight(s) back home losing a lot of money so she could make sure she didn’t pass her cold on to others.

    Yes, my statement is very sarcastic, but it’s inconceivable that someone would actually think they could get their money back for this situation.

  • Patrica

    I have gotten sick after plane flights and despite all the sami-wipes and sprays ( sanitize window pull, Table, magazine pocket AND magazine, arm rest PLUS putting a scarf on the back of the chair to PERHAPS protect against head lice). I must add that I am never reluctant to demonstrate to a person how to use a kleenex, how to cough into the side of their sleeve, and even to “donate” sani wipes to them. I am never reluctant to ask them to exercise precautions for my health and theirs. If you’ve sat next to them for so long, WHY didn’t YOU inform them? Sorry, but reading this ““The son was hacking every few minutes for three days,” she lamented. “I think he covered his mouth only some of the time. ” and then with you waiting until the end of the tour when you got sick, THEN wanting your $ back”, I had to say something.

  • greg watson

    Annoying……….yes………….Frustrating………yes…………Unpleasant……….yes…………but, sometimes life exposes us to things that are out of our control………….& we have to deal with it.

  • pauletteb

    Average incubation periods for upper respiratory ailments don’t jibe with her timeline. Sounds like the major reason for fixing the blame is that the father and son’s coughing annoyed her.

  • pauletteb

    I have to remember the wipe thing!

  • redragtopstl

    Similar thing happened to me and my spouse on a bus tour in March 2016. (For various reasons, we now refer to this excursion as “the trip from H*ll.”)

    Tour company combined 2 groups to fill up the bus; you were assigned seats at the beginning of the trip & you sat behind/next to the same folks for the duration, only moving back a row each day. Unfortunately, the elderly lady in front of us was hacking & coughing from the moment we boarded the bus & continued the entire 7 days of the tour. Her daughter finally did get her to take some medicine about 5 days into the trip, but by that time I had come down with a bad cold/respiratory illness. I missed most of a day stuck in a hotel room taking meds, but it didn’t occur to me to ask for a refund. A couple of other people on the tour got sick also.

    By the time the bus returned to STL, my husband was also falling ill — he ended up in the emergency room with “walking pneumonia” a couple days later. As for the elderly lady … we heard later that she was taken to a local hospital and subsequently died. Guess her system couldn’t fight the bug she had and was passing around.

  • y_p_w

    Antibacterial wipes aren’t necessarily labeled as antiviral. The biggest brand in the US is Wet Ones, and their FAQs make no mention of anything except bacteria.

    http://www.wetones.com/faqs.aspx

    However, it’s benzethonium chloride (similar products use benzakonium chloride) which is supposed to be effective against many viruses. I think the US FDA hasn’t approved its labeling as killing anything except bacteria.

  • jah6

    Ridiculous! Almost every long haul trip I make I come down with a virus I probably picked up on the plane. Should I have been asking the airline for a refund?

  • ArizonaRoadWarrior

    The OP could have spoken with the tour director about the situation at the beginning of the tour instead of waiting until the tour was over.

    Also, the OP could have spoken with the traveler…”do you know what you guys have? Are you guys on medication? Is it contagious? I am concern that I might catch it……” Yes…it is difficult to talk with people when they are ‘breaking’ the social contract but sometimes you need to.

  • kimber

    Until there’s something better, at least it’s something!

  • SierraRose 49

    Agree 100%. The guides we’ve had on our bus tours have been very accommodating to passenger needs. If it had been me, I would have politely begged to be moved. I also carry wipes and hand cleanser. Sure, it won’t stop a constant barrage of germs coming my way, but it should help. I still think the long flights over the ocean are a greater source of picking up germs or a viral bug.

  • PsyGuy

    This is how infectious diseases work, by infecting people. if you want better assurances than book a private guided tour, which will of course cost more.

  • PsyGuy

    She was assigned a seat, it wasn’t open seating.

  • PsyGuy

    Yes but viruses don’t live well outside of a host organism.

  • y_p_w

    Depends on the virus. Some viruses aren’t really “alive” per se. I remember a science lecture where I learned of some viruses that could basically be left in a jar for a hundred years but could infect someone who came into contact with it.

    A cold or flu virus might still be contagious for a few hours if it’s still in wet nasal drippings. Measles are certainly still contagious for at least a couple of hours. They are generally inactivated by benzethonium chloride, but the can’t be advertised as such. I guess the other advantage of benzethonium chloride is that there’s still residual antimicrobial activity as long as it’s not washed off. Alcohol-based hand sanitizer basically goes away.

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