If you get sick on a bus tour should the operator give you a refund — even if you completed the entire trip? Gay Hackney believes so.
She says that two fellow travelers aboard the bus appeared ill during her 13-day tour through Spain and Portugal. The father and son’s constant coughing irritated her. But the last straw came at the end of the tour when she woke up sick herself. Now that she’s home, she wants to know if Trafalgar owes her a refund for this unpleasant bus tour. (Updated Jan. 2021)
A bus tour filled to capacity
“51 people filled this bus– capacity is 52,” Hackney recalled. “The company assigned my seat. This father and his 10-year-old son got completely sick. 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. In her request for help to our advocacy team, Hackney explained:
The son was hacking every few minutes for three days. 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 this unpleasant bus tour. Travalgar shoudn’t have made the bus so crowded, then I could have taken another seat. I would like a refund for the bus tour since I did not enjoy it because of these two.
A bus tour can be breeding grounds for illness
Bus tours by nature are crowded and place you close to strangers for long periods of time. It is inevitable that some of these people may be annoying — or even worse, endanger your health.
But is it the responsibility of a bus tour company to ensure that all travelers are perfectly healthy?
I went to Trafalgar’s terms and conditions and read through the many pages. I could find no mention of any health requirements for travelers. One area of this document 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 says that if a traveler is unfit to take the bus tour, they will be removed from the trip and will receive no refund, it’s unclear what the traveler’s motivation would be to report their illness.
Note: Hackney’s bus tour occurred before the coronavirus pandemic began. At this time, Trafalgar’s website states that they will operate at less than capacity once touring resumes. According to the company, this will allow passengers and guides to maintain social distancing on their bus tour.
Should an unpleasant bus tour lead to a refund?
In fact, in Hackney’s contract, Trafalgar advised that anyone suffering from “any form of illness” should make sure to bring enough medication for the entire length of the tour. But there’s no mention of what kind of illnesses should prevent you from taking the trip.
Hackney’s primary argument was that she had no choice in her seat assignment. She says that Travalgar placed her in the seat beside this father and son. The overcrowded tour bus made it impossible to change seats and this led to her eventual illness. For these reasons, she believed that Trafalgar owed her a refund for this unpleasant bus tour that ended with her sickness.
Unfortunately, her tour contract does not support this assertion.
In multiple places, Trafalgar points out that there are inherent risks with participating in a bus tour. The company claims no responsibility for the illness or injury of a passenger unless Trafalgar’s negligence causes the condition.
I am not sure that placing the father and son coughing duo near Hackney would be considered negligence. After all, Hackney continued with the tour without making an official complaint for the entire 13 days.
And nowhere in the contract does it say that this bus tour will be operating at less than capacity. It’s unclear why Hackney 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 the company will fill those seats if at all possible.
The bottom line: no refund for this bus tour
In the end, there was no way to successfully mediate Hackney’a request for a refund of her disappointing bus tour. There is no way for her to prove the origin of her illness. Traveling internationally can 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 Hackney picked up her illness. Her condition may have had nothing to do with her chosen suspects.
If you have a grievance during an organized tour, it’s 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, it’s impossible for the company to properly investigate or remedy your issue.
We are happy to hear that Hackney is on the mend now. I hope that her next vacation is free of coughing little boys who refuse to cover their mouths. But as anyone who travels knows — that can never be guaranteed.
How to reduce your chances of getting sick when you travel abroad
Once we begin traveling again, it will be more important than ever to take safety precautions before, during and after a journey abroad. Here are some things to keep in mind.
- Choose less risky travel modes
Remember, the closer you get to strangers whose health history and hygiene habits you don’t know, the riskier your trip will become. When choosing your mode of travel, keep this in mind. Research the company you intend to travel with and make sure they have implemented the most recent recommendations to reduce the risk of spreading illnesses (Not just the coronavirus).
- Consider less dangerous destinations
Again, reducing your exposure to large crowds is key. As travel resumes, choosing less populated destinations can be one way to lower your vulnerability to catching a bug from a stranger. Visit the U.S. State Department and read about your intended international destination and steer clear of locations with elevated health concerns. Also, check the Center for Disease control for the most up to date travel considerations and recommendations. Be aware that upon return from some destinations you may be expected to quarantine in your home at this time.
- Carefully read the terms and conditions
Before you book a bus tour or any other vacation, make sure you read all of the terms of the trip. In this case, Hackney hadn’t done that and was under the impression the bus would not be filled to capacity. It’s important to understand what you’re booking a the time you’re making the reservation. Reading through the entire contract might be tedious, but it also can save you from ending up on a 13-day tour with conditions you did not expect.
- Cancel for Any Reason or traditional insurance?
A comprehensive travel insurance policy will protect you should you get sick internationally. Although Cancel for Any Reason trip insurance can be quite costly, it can provide peace of mind during these uncertain times if you’re considering investing in a pricey trip in the near future. But whether you choose a Cancel for Any Reason or a traditional insurance policy, it’s critical to read through the entire document to ensure that you’re purchasing something that meets your needs. Keep in mind, you typically have a 10-14 day “look-over” period before the policy becomes nonrefundable. That’s the time to thoroughly review it in its entirety. You can compare a variety of policies on a site such as InsureMyTrip.
- Carry a travel sanitation kit
No matter where your future journeys take you, you’ll want to be prepared to keep your personal space clean. Consider making yourself a minature sanitation kit that you can carry with you. Mine includes travel sizes of hand sanitizer, lysol, disinfecting wipes, a variety of comfortable masks and liquid antibacterial soap. (Michelle Couch-Friedman, Elliott Advocacy)