After my public letter to Brittany Ferries I posted last week, I did receive a reply. Not the one I was expected though. Neither in form nor in content. As I took the time to write with pen and paper and send them a recorded signed for letter, I was at least expecting a printed letter back. Maybe I made a mistake to also send it by email to their customer service. It’s probably the same people processing both, so I only got an email back… Read on.
Dear Mr Davy,
I am sorry that you have been delayed on your recent trip to Portsmouth. Clearly you are annoyed by this and are concerned about our schedule for our high-speed service in general and so I apologise for the frustration that any delay have caused you.
The honest reality of the situation is we have had more issues with delays this year than we would like. I would argue however that you are not correct to state that these are ‘regular’ when you take into account the total number of services we deliver on time throughout the 9 routes on which we operate. But I agree that the percentage of these on your preferred crossing is a disappointment to us. Consequently we have already taken action to revise the schedules for next year to allow more time to be able to absorb problems should they arise and we expect this to improve significantly the timekeeping for our passengers on the high-speed services.
Recently the unforeseeable issues of weather and mechanical breakdown (which in themselves have been unusually high in number) have been compounded by industrial action, causing a rise in the number of delays. We regret this enormously but the issues over which there is dispute are fundamental to the ongoing health of the company and we can only try to resolve them as quickly as possible. Unfortunately we do not receive notice of these actions and therefore are unable to plan for them.
The point of your letter is for compensation for the costs you have incurred due to the delay. While I am sympathetic to the problems you have incurred, I am afraid it is not commercially viable for us to alter our long established terms and conditions relating to this situation. Like all other ferry operators we state very clearly that we are not liable for expenses arising due to delays caused by unforeseeable circumstances. To alter our position on this would mean considerable extra costs that we could not assimilate and which would therefore have to be passed on to the price of the ticket. This is something that the vast majority of our customers would not accept.
I hope that you will find our schedule for next year will provide the reliable timings that you desire to complement the rest of the service which I am pleased you enjoy. However my advice is to leave a larger margin for error with your connections because it takes an average of around 45 minutes to get disembarked and out of the ports security.
Sorry I cannot be of more help but I hope I have explained the situation clearly and we hope we will continue to be able to welcome you onboard in the future.
Now, while I wasn’t necessarily expecting a positive answer to my request to pay for my hotel room, I wasn’t expecting that reply. I really don’t think using the “terms and conditions” little print as a way to close up all discussion is a mark of great customer service and understanding. As a matter of fact, there were quite a few things wrong in that reply, intentionally or not. So while I don’t expect anything from Brittany Ferries given how they don’t really care about their customers (not even enough to reply with a letter at the very least!), I had to respond to clarify a few things.
Shame on you BF, you really know how to make people unwelcome. Too bad there’s no other option, or you’d have to raise your game. And not just for me!
Thanks for responding to my email, although, as I took the time to write to you with pen and paper, I would have appreciated more a written, or printed reply to my own letter. As it’s been more than a week I sent it and didn’t have any other response than your email, it’s time for me to respond.
I think you may have read my email the wrong way for some of the points I mentioned, so please allow me to clarify:
I never said, in any of my conversations with you, or online anywhere, that all your services are suffering from delays. Please don’t assume that is what I said. However, looking, once again, at your twitter account, it’s very clear this is happening a lot this summer on the Portsmouth-Cherbourg high-speed line, and a lot of people are wondering what is going on, and rightly so.
I understand you’ve had industrial actions and bad weather, and I did make a mention that this is perfectly fine. It’s unfortunate for you and your clients, and it’s just one of those things. The same goes for the harbour operations in Portsmouth that you cannot control either. Again, this is fine by me.
I’ve been sailing quite a bit, and even been dating a to-be ship master who worked on your services for a piece of work at Plymouth University, as part of her merchant navy studies. Having helped her more than often in her assignments and research, I’m all too aware of the operational challenges, constraints and risks associated with RO-RO ferries and scheduling of crossings.
Unlike what your response seems to indicate, I am not even suggesting that you should compensate all your passengers for a late arrival. I suggested that you owned up for the very few ones whose travel plans got totally ruined by accumulated delays during the day, which have nothing to do with strikes, technical faults or weather. More on this below.
You seem to have understood that I am not happy about the times the boats travel. While this is partly true as I can’t really find times that would suit my own needs, I can only refer to my first point and say that I totally understand why they’re scheduled that way and, like everyone else, abide by them to make my travel plans. What I was, and still am, pointing at is the reliability of the service to be on time. I think you have agreed with me in your response that, on the line I’m discussing, in the period of this summer, this has not been the case all too often, excluding the first morning service, of course. So please don’t think I am talking about anything else than this.
The point of my email/letter was to explain that in circumstances like mine (and I’m pretty sure this happens rarely) you should own up to it. Harbour delays, weather or industrial action weren’t the issue on the day of my return. The cumulative effect of embarking/disembarking was. You have advised me that getting off the boat takes usually 45 minutes. While this may be true for cars (specially the last ones off the boat), it is entirely untrue for bicycles which get off the boat first. In all the crossings I’ve done with my bike (That’s quite a few in the 7 years I’ve been in the UK), I’ve always been on and off the boat first, leaving harbours in the 5 minutes after the doors of the boat open. Also, on that particular day, I had 38 minutes of extra time built in for that last train, with a boat supposed to arrive at 22:15 and the last train being 22:53. On a bike, this has always been much more than enough, and I don’t see why I should generally be made to hang around train stations to absorb the planning issues you have.
I don’t book crossings in the hope I’ll make the connection by sprinting to the train station.
I book crossings carefully checking the arrival times and how long it takes me to get where I need to be next, using the information you provide on your website, and the (I hope true!) assumption that you want to deliver an on-time service. On a bike, even getting slowly around Portsmouth town centre, it takes me a maximum of 10 min to be at the station. I know what I can cycle, how fast and how far, and make my plans according to that and previous (excellent nonetheless) experiences on your crossings.
It’s really a shame that these kind of exceptional circumstances are never acknowledged and some passengers always get the short straw from no fault of their own. Hiding behind terms and conditions is just always the same lame excuse. If you read the article I pointed you to on y website, you’ll understand why I don’t have the choice of services, and why I don’t exactly have the choice in NOT accepting your T&Cs: If I don’t accept them, I just can’t really go home. Not exactly a fair argument to use that…
I believe you have all the information you need should you come back on your decision about the hotel room.
In the mean time, I’ll be using another of your lines to go to a week-end event in France, for which, interestingly, one of the services has already been cancelled without more of a transparent explanation, and yet another “sorry for the inconvenience”. Shame it’s happening again when I’m travelling with you, and on another line than my preferred service.
Hopefully this time there seems to be a solution with a later service. It’s however a good thing that I don’t have train tickets for the connection back in the UK after this one arrives…