What Anne East of London had planned was "The trip of a lifetime for my 83-year-old mother", using a Eurostar train from London to Paris. What she got was a 20,000 Seconds Under the Sea nightmare. Question: was she was offered in compensation (a) nothing; (b) a form with which to apply for a voucher that might lead eventually to a replacement ticket; or (c) full recompense for all the money she lost plus four free return tickets to Paris?

The answer is "all three", but (c) was achieved only because of Ms East's persistence and refusal to be palmed off with excuses. Now we all have grumbles about flaws on our travels, and most of the time the best solution is to grin and bear it (and possibly vow to stay at home next time). But sometimes events go so calamitously wrong that anything short of generous redress is a scandal.

So it was in Ms East's case. I shall spare you every detail about her trip from Waterloo to Calais and back; suffice it to say that at precisely the moment she and her mother should have been in Paris, they were only arriving in Ashford. This, as it turned out, was the highlight of the trip. Once the train entered the Channel Tunnel, it developed a fault and all the lights were turned out to conserve energy. After a total of 16 hours, of which six were spent in the tunnel, Ms East and her mother arrived back at Waterloo. It was 2.30am.

"We were offered a taxi home, but no one mentioned anything about how Eurostar might make up for this disastrous journey. In the end I asked a customer service representative, and was handed a form to apply for a voucher." Tired and hungry (the last sandwiches having been eaten 15 hours earlier), Ms East was in no mood to argue. But the following day she wrote to European Passenger Services, which runs Eurostar in the UK, asking for more reasonable compensation.

Nothing happened for a week, save for her telling the Independent what was going on. Then the telephone rang. It was Eurostar's finance director, apologising for the series of blunders and agreeing to meet Ms East's claim in full. He also threw in a couple of free trips to the French capital. Commendable customer relations eventually, but if Ms East had not made a fuss she might have been left with nothing.

One reason Manchester is officially England's "top tourist town", as we reported last week, is the welcome shown to visitors. The award prompted Chris Walmsley of London to write with his own experience of the citizens' generosity.

"I was standing on a busy main road in Manchester in the pouring rain with a suitcase at my feet. A man driving a brown Datsun pulled up, leapt out, grabbed my case and only then explained that he was giving me a lift to wherever I was going.

"Since my mother never advised me against accepting lifts from strangers, I got in and was driven, unsolicited, halfway across Manchester to Victoria station. When the driver asked me where I came from I said `near Watford' and he replied `Someone's got to live there'. When I asked him where he came from he said `Salford Quays'; I kept my mouth shut. I still wonder who he thought I was."

A Northwest Airlines flight from Gatwick to Minneapolis flew into turbulence at Christmas when a party of travellers let the party spirit get the better of them. A group of passengers became rowdy and started throwing food at cabin crew. The flight attendants refused to serve them any more alcohol, so the parents deployed their children to steal liquor from the drinks cart and a bit of a fracas began. Now a Surrey discount agency, Media Travel, has taken up the theme with its brochure of cut-price tickets to North America. The small print warns transatlantic passengers that "All fights (sic) must take place between 8 January and 28 March".

Comments