Trying to help or trying it on?

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The Independent Travel
Trying to help or trying it on? Adrian West of north London suspects the latter of Country Holidays, part of the Thomson group.

"My wife and I have had many successful cottage holidays in Britain and abroad. This year, for the first time, we used the brochure of Country Holidays. We chose the cottage we wanted, and booked it over the telephone.

"I was surprised to find, when the booking confirmation came, that the cost of the holiday included both personal insurance and cancellation insurance. This has never been our experience with any other company. The charge for personal insurance was just a try-on - I didn't have to take it. The cancellation insurance was compulsory unless I obtained equivalent cover elsewhere and provided the company with written details of my insurer and the policy number."

Mr West believes the personal cover is a clear case of inertia selling: "We are already covered for normal risks, and a week spent less than 200 miles from home presents no special hazards." Regarding the cancellation charge: "Surely it cannot be any concern of Country Holidays whether or not I am able to take a holiday for which I have already paid. The truth of the matter seems to be that the company is not content with being a letting agent, but thinks it has a captive market as an insurance agent. I think this is sharp practice."

Country Holidays says it routinely offers both cancellation and personal insurance. "If personal insurance is not required, and cancellation insurance is obtained from another source, the matter is not pressed." Cancellation insurance is needed "to protect both the customer and the property owner. This is to ensure in the event of the holiday being cancelled the customer obtains a full refund of the cost of their holiday and the property owner is assured of payment from Country Holidays."

You might think the company, as part of a group which makes much of the fact that it has assets of pounds 6 billion, could afford to be more generous to the property owner in the event of cancellation.

Elvis Presley is travelling all over Europe from a base in Vienna. The singer lends his name to a Boeing 737 which is otherwise known by the unwieldy title OE-LNH, belonging to Lauda Air of Austria. Nikki Lauda, the airline's flamboyant racing-driver founder, has named his fleet after rock greats: Elvis is accompanied by Bob Marley, John Lennon and Janis Joplin, which must be the ultimate fantasy a cappella band. I am all in favour of more imaginative names than OE-LNH, but unfortunately for an airline, the other thread that binds these stars is that they died too young - as did the people celebrated in Lauda Air's 767 fleet, Marilyn Monroe, James Dean and the recently deceased racing driver, Ayrton Senna.

While the world's airlines are projecting a public image of ever-greater comfort and attention aboard their planes, they can be rather less polite when talking among themselves. This week I overheard staff at a gate at Gatwick being told by walkie-talkie that "three hags are on the way" - a reference to late or "Have A Go" passengers, rather than their appearance.

Once on board, you and me become unwitting members of a "trapped audience". I learn this from the BBC staff newspaper, which reveals that the Corporation has appointed an executive named Colin Jarvis to a new job. He was to be manager for Trapped Audiences, until he persuaded the BBC to adopt the title of head of Inflight Entertainment.

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