Offended by our request for more information? We can’t help

“These researchers for Chris Elliott respond with more legalese than the cotton-pickin’ insurance company did.”

This was the response we received from Donald Norton to a question we asked him about his case.

Our advocates often need to follow up with additional questions to determine whether we can help consumers requesting our assistance. We do this when we receive help requests with information that appears to be unclear or incomplete. Most of these consumers are happy to provide us with the answers to our questions, but some take offense. When that happens, we can’t help them.

We’d like to remind everyone who requests our help that we’re all volunteers. That includes Chris. All our advocacy efforts take place in our spare time, without compensation. We do ask, however, for basic courtesy from the consumers we try to assist. We didn’t get it from Norton, who, curiously, claims “public relations” as his occupation.

Norton contacted us to request assistance with a Viking River Cruise 15-day Grand European Tour, beginning in Amsterdam, for which he and a friend paid $16,626 and weren’t able to take. They also paid $1,438 for a travel protection plan from Trip Mate and booked flights on United Airlines from Baltimore to Amsterdam via Toronto.

Unfortunately, on the day of the flights, a bomb scare at Baltimore Washington International Airport delayed Norton’s outbound flight for 78 minutes. When he and his friend arrived in Toronto, they found that their connecting flight to Amsterdam had departed.

Here’s Norton on what happened next:

There were no Viking or Trip Mate representatives in Toronto to assist stranded travelers. Chits for food and a night in a hotel were provided. Trip Mate advised us by phone to take the next day’s Amsterdam flight and find a way to catch Viking’s cruise ship which, by then, would have embarked on its voyage.

“Finding a way” was no simple matter. The flight would put us in Amsterdam on the morning of [Day Two of the cruise]. We would have to spend $2,600 for airline tickets to an airport near Cologne where the ship would spend Day Three of the cruise. Finding transportation from the airport to the ship before it departed Cologne at midnight was also our problem.

We had already put considerable effort, expense and emotion into our “trip of a lifetime.”

We threw in the towel and paid our own way back home.

Norton and his friend then requested compensation from Viking River Cruises and filed a claim on their Trip Mate policy. They were each offered the “maximum” compensation of $3,000 for each traveler in Viking’s travel protection plan with Trip Mate for “missed connections.” Trip Mate paid $1,438 directly, and Viking covered the remainder.

But Norton and his friend declined the offered compensation. They wanted a full refund for the total cost of their cruise. Norton called Viking and Trip Mate, but representatives of both companies told him that they could do nothing to change their offer.

Norton then adopted two strategies we don’t advise. He decided to “go right to the top” and wrote to Jason Pashko, senior vice president of Viking River Cruises, and Brad Finkle, CEO of Trip Mate. (Executive contact information for Viking and Trip Mate appears on our website.) His letter emphasized his desire for a scathing story about the treatment he received from Viking and Trip Mate. Here are excerpts from his letter:

I’m a writer working on an article about a 15-day Viking River Cruise that cost me $16,626, yet was “interrupted” after a one hour and 42-minute airplane ride. I never saw the ship. Viking has offered its maximum reimbursement of $6,000.

I seek your help. Viking and Trip Mate will want the article to be completely accurate. So will the nation’s travel publications and newspaper travel pages. I’ll let them know you have seen the details listed below. …

Please let me know any corrections or suggestions. My article will go out in a week.

It’s possible that if Norton had begun by writing a polite, concise letter to lower-ranking executives of Viking and Trip Mate without mentioning his article, and allowing each sufficient time to respond before escalating his case through the corporate hierarchies of these companies, he might have had a more favorable response. When he didn’t receive one, he asked our advocates for help. His desired resolution was either a full refund or “a column describing the issue [that] would serve as a warning to potential Viking customers.”

Our advocates needed a paper trail from Norton to proceed with his case. We sent the following response to his help request:

As this is a named perils policy, your situation will need to fall under one of the covered events. You note that the delay was the result of a bomb threat, which may or may not fall under a covered event. Did the airline provide you any documentation as the reason for the delay? Was the airport evacuated?

To help us determine if we can assist further, please provide more details as to what transpired at the airport, and which flights (flight numbers) the airlines offered to accommodate you on to get you to Amsterdam or the next port location. Also, can you please attach a copy of your travel itinerary, insurance policy certificate, any documentation from the airline, and a copy of the settlement letter from the insurance company (if you don’t have it yet, then attach screen prints of the claim status from their website.

Norton replied with the snarky one-liner at the beginning of this story.

That ”legalese” would have told us whether Norton had a case we could help him with. And we make the same requests of all persons asking us to help resolve travel cases.

We asked him whether he wanted to close the case, and he replied: “Certainly do. Shut it down. It’s interesting that you come up with more legalese than Viking and Trip Mate combined. Keep up the great ‘advocating!'”

Which is exactly what we’re going to keep on doing — but not for Norton.

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