Why you shouldn’t wait 15 months after your trip to make a complaint

How long is too long to wait to register a complaint about the way you were treated?

Writer Mason Cooley said, “Procrastination makes easy things hard and hard things harder.” This case is an example of how procrastination can make resolving a travel complaint not just harder but perhaps even impossible.

Dorothy Dean took an escorted trip to Peru with Flying Wheels Travel, which calls itself “the first and most experienced travel agency for people with physical disabilities, chronic illness or difficulty walking.”

She seems to have been satisfied with most of the tour. But the last day of the trip left her very upset. She calls that day “a complete, miserable waste.”

I was part of the group that was left in a van in the heat for four hours with no way to leave the van. No ramp, no lift, too rocky, too uneven ground for the few who could walk.

We were also taken to an open air market next to the ocean — cold, damp, miserable — for nine hours. Impossible to leave or find a place to do more than sit.

Both of these situations are terrible for an ordinary tour. Much more so for the targeted population.

From her description, it does sound awful. She complained to the company in writing about her treatment on that last day and asked for a prorated refund. It’s not clear how much that would be. It could come to as much as $800, depending on how it’s calculated.

The problem from our standpoint is that she waited 15 months before contacting the company to complain. When our advocate asked her why she waited so long, her answer was, “Life gets in the way.” She went on to add, “In the time from returning home to starting on the complaint I moved. That was a lengthy, complicated process.”

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When she didn’t get the response she wanted from Flying Wheels, she escalated. She filed written complaints with the Minnesota Attorney General, the Federal Trade Commission, the Better Business Bureau, and the U.S. Department of Justice Disability Rights Section, to name just a few. None of those efforts led to a refund, so she contacted us.

In the materials she sent us, Dean included the tour director’s written response to the BBB. In it, he disputed her account point by point. He mentioned things she omitted, which put matters in a different light. He also said that 95 percent of those on her tour traveled with Flying Wheels again the next year. In addition, the tour director made allegations about her behavior on both that last day and at other times.

It comes down to a “she said, he said” situation with no way for us to know who is right.

In some of the cases we handle, the problems could have been avoided if the consumer had done a little homework on the company before buying. We don’t know if she did that but, most likely, it would not have made a difference. I did an online search for complaints about Flying Wheels Travel and found only one, which appears to have been posted by Dean herself. By contrast, I found lots of good reviews of the company’s tours.

Bottom line for the company was in the reply to the BBB: “This tour was conducted October 26 to November 6, 2014. We had no indication that Ms. Dean was unhappy with the tour until we received a letter from her dated February 6, 2016. Our policy is not to refund tours after 12 months from the tour end date. Because of this policy we will not be providing Ms. Dean a refund.”

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So back to the original question: How long is too long to wait? Would she have gotten that partial refund if she had written as soon as she got home? We can’t know the answer. However, the company has a good online reputation, so it might have made a difference.

You can find lots of quotes and sayings about procrastination and its opposite, taking action. One of the oldest is “carpe diem” which means seize the day. The lesson here is that if you’re unhappy about the way a business has treated you, let them know in a timely manner. If you’re really angry, it can be useful to give yourself a little time to cool off first. But don’t stew on it for more than a year as Dean did.

We’re undecided on whether we should try to help her or if we even can. Is it too late for Dean?

Should we take this case and try to get Dorothy Dean a partial refund?

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Abe Wischnia

Abe started his working career as a television news reporter and newscaster before moving to corporate communications and investor relations. Now retired and having learned useful tips from Elliott.org, one of his volunteer activities is writing for us.

  • Jeff W.

    There is the old adage that you cannot please all of the people all of the time.

    Some of her complaints could be valid and others are just preferences. One person sitting next to an ocean may find it cold and damp. Others may find the sea breeze invigorating and they are there for the view.

    But you cannot wait fifteen months to make the complaint. If she had raised her issues on that day, or even soon thereafter, she would have had better luck. But if Flying Wheels is to believed and 95% of those on her tour rebooked another tour, her case is even further weakened.

    Since it is unlikely that she would rebook with this company again, the company really has no incentive to help. There are no negative reviews beyond her that you found. And I am sure they were put off by the various complaints to every gov’t agency and company she could muster.

  • Annie M

    If all of these consumer agencies she wrote to declined doing anything against the company it makes it seem like her complaints were unfounded. I too checked reviews of this company and found positive reviews by everyone but her.

    If you received the response from the tour operator that had omissions from her story- what does that tell you?

    If it was that bad she would have complained right away.

  • renae

    Without you saying what the company’s point by point response was….it is impossible to make a call. However, the time lag between the service and complaint appears to make it a fools errand

  • Pat

    She lost me when she said she was left in a van in the heat for four hours. If that was the case, after four hours, the people in the van would have been dehydrated and needing to go to the hospital or dead. Also when she references the market, I would guess most of the people probably enjoyed it. I wonder if she asked if there was a place she could stay while the others visited the market.

    But overall, she waited too long to make her complaints. Even if she did shortly after she got back, the most she I would expect her to receive is some funny money or discount for a future trip.

  • Lee

    Well, I found and read her review – wow. She claims both incidents were life-threatening and very dangerous. The thing I don’t quite understand is that it seems that none of them had a cell phone with which they could call police if they all felt they were in such a dangerous situation. Even in Peru, this would be a possible thing to do – And, if all those claims (accusations) are true, difficult to understand why she is the only who complained – or, maybe others did, but only directly to the company and not online.

    If all this is true – then even with her moving after her return home, the complaint should have been made much closer to the time of the end of the trip – If all that had happened to me, I wouldn’t have even waited until the trip was over to complain.

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