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. Read more of Abe's stories here.

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