We all love a good sunny holiday abroad so it shouldn’t be any different for anyone in a wheelchair, unfortunately holiday’s can go terribly wrong no matter how much you put your trust and faith into the travel agent/company you book with. So every now and then you find yourself in battle with a company that’s not only in the wrong but also takes no responsibility for their actions.
This is my story of a year-long battle that did unfortunately take its toll on me physically and mentally.
In June 2015 I booked what I thought was a wheelchair accessible/friendly holiday with Loveholidays, this was to turn into something that could have been avoided if loveholidays had trained staff like most other travel company have, an accessible team.
What did they do so wrong
Having muscular dystrophy with my own set of 4 wheels or as I like to call her my go-kart (powered Wheelchair). when booking a holiday abroad I go into great detail of what my needs are, plus making sure whomever is booking my holiday understands what I need.
- Bathroom with walk in shower with fixed shower chair
- Fully accessible hotel for wheelchair users
- Vehicle transfer – rear loader vehicle for electric wheelchair on to – airport to hotel – hotel to airport
- Area is accessible and as flat land as it can be I.e shop, restaurants, bars.
- Help at airport – special assistance on & off plane
- Traveling in my own powered Wheelchair
After spending several hours on the phone to the travel agent at loveholidays, explaining and going though my needs, I made sure the travel agent repeated and understood what I was asking for.
Still I was sent to a hotel & place that can only be described as unsafe and unfit for anyone in a wheelchair, it made me feel as if the whole phone call booking the holiday hadn’t happened, what was meant to be a wonderful all-inclusive break away with my husband for two weeks end up being the worst holiday I have ever experienced.
This is my holiday.
It was a 3am start to Luton airport – From the moment we arrived at a rainy Palma airport that’s where our problems started, we aimlessly wandered around the airport looking like true tourists trying to find the transfer desk which we finely found after 10 minutes, we was told to take sit and wait for someone to call us when our wheelchair transfer vehicle was here, then around 15 minutes later a lady came over and asked where my husband was she need to speak him, she was adamant that she didn’t want to speak to me (that’s unfortunately not unusual when people see the Wheelchair) so I grabbed my husband who was outside to find out what was going on, as my husband wandered back from the desk with a bewildered look across his face then said they can’t take you ‘why’ they don’t deal with powered wheelchairs only fold on, ‘ok, so what are they doing we’ve paid already’ My husband followed with nothing she’s told me we need to make our own way and get reimbursed from the holiday company, they told me the taxi rank is that way.
Tired, uncomfortable and agitated I just wanting to get to the hotel, we had no way of knowing how much or how long the journey was going to take us, I was anxious and concerned we wouldn’t have enough euros. €28 later, thank goodness it wasn’t far but still not the point when we had paid for the journey already.
We had finally made it to the hotel it was on a busy road a few little convenience shops a take away but mostly apartments surrounded us, my heart sank as I looked at the big curb there was no way I was able to make it up without my husband pushing the back of my wheelchair to get the front wheels up into the curb, then came the ramp up to the hotel that was so tight I could barely turn my wheelchair to get onto it, it was a steep and tight slope upwards my left wheel lifted off the floor, believe you me that’s not much fun having the feeling that you have no control over your 98kg wheelchair that your strapped to with metal bars stopping you from falling over onto the pathway/road, the top was just as tight of a squeeze I was faced with the stairs right in front of me so it was a Swift turn or I ended up going down the stairs. Going down was even more dangerous the slop was that steep and Slippy my husband hand to hold on to the back of my chair, I have no brakes like a car so I would have ended up hitting the wall at the bottom, Would have made a good comedy sketch for Lou and Andy in little Britain,
We couldn’t check in as we was early our room still hadn’t been cleaned, so we put our luggage in the luggage room and went to check out the rest of the hotel, of course the pool area was the first port of call, the 2 lifts that go straight to the pool area I couldn’t even get me’ my go-kart and I into, the doors kept hitting the back of my wheelchair and my wheelchair was scrapping the sides of the lift, thankfully there was two other lifts in the hotel in the hope that I could get into them off we went, it was very tight squeeze my feet had to be pushed up against the back of the lift just to be able fit in but I made it in, with my poor husband squeezing in by the side of me nearly taking his manhood. (At times in the holiday I had to be sent in the lift on my own if we had any bags with us)
The pool area was on the 1st floor which was the only place that had a disabled toilet and that was closed down the same time the pool was at 7pm, there was a 2nd pool on the roof but again a few steps to get to it so I never did see it.
By the time we was able to check in it was 2 in the afternoon we where both tired frustrated and hungry, so we just wanted to get in our room and relax before dinner, our room was on the 4th floor which I found crazy as there where signs posted everywhere, especially by the lifts saying “if in a fire don’t use the lift”as you can guess hopping that there wasn’t going to be a fire or I was stuck for sure, there was 2 occasions when the fire alarm went off around midnight – a great safety measure when you’re in a wheelchair.
There was a small corridor to get to our room on the fourth floor with the two lifts I couldn’t get in and a flight of stairs directly opposite, going through I had to make sure my wheelchair was pushed as far as I could get up to the wall of the lifts side, as there was what I can only explain as a cut out bit of the floor that if I had misjudged I was going down the stairs.
First look at the bedroom it was ok enough Space enough room for me to manoeuvre around as long as I kept the wheelies to a minimum, the balcony had a 4inch step so I wasn’t able to go out onto that unless I was lifted backwards in my wheelchair over the step, so was unable to stay outside on the balcony on my own as I couldn’t get back in without help.
The bathroom now this is where my nightmares got a little worse it wasn’t a walk in shower with a fixed shower chair, it was just a shower with a 2inch tile lip going all the way around the shower area and a few grab rails there was no way of me being able to shower at all, I was still holding it together at this point, but the thought of not being able clean myself or wash my hair for two weeks in a hot country wasn’t filling me with much joy, I wasn’t camping out in a field for 2 week I was in a 3 star hotel, all that kept going though my head is how is this going to work im unable to stand by myself or move my own limbs, the thought that only being able to fill a sink with hot water and use a flannel to clean was degrading.
I said to my husband I need to sleep, eat then deal with the bathroom situation and get us moved to a disabled room tomorrow he agreed.
Being all-inclusive we don’t need to worry about finding anywhere to eat which suit us great normally, so we was definitely ready for 7pm when the food hall opened for dinner, what a mistake that was half the food didn’t even look edible, hungry we mustard through to find something to eat so my husband ended up having chips and a bread roll, me cold pasta and bread as we was eating we over heard a couple on the table in front talking about the food looking at the gentlemen plate he had chips and brussel sprouts, both saying they will be glad to leave tomorrow as they was sick of no choices everyday and just eating nothing but bread, chips and the odd breakfast which was much either, that just filled us with even more joy as you can imagine, when giving the food hall a closer look you could see it was full of little flies everywhere all around the food on the walls, one of air conditioning units in the ceiling was broken and leaking around the food area, buckets placed all over the floor to catch the water dripping. (Though out our two weeks we did go and see if it had improved by no such luck).
our first day was going bad to worse, so we decided to go for a walk into the town area which was a 2 minutes from the hotel, thinking it’s ok if push comes to shove we can eat out if we have to.
This was the moment tears starting falling after holding it together all day I had finally cracked, everywhere we looked had steps up or down there was no way I would be able to get in anywhere not even the McDonald’s we found, crying along the Promenade all I could say to my husband was I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry I booked this holiday and I’ve ruined our holiday.
I had now gone from upset to mad (amazing what a good night sleep can do) in a better frame of mind I was now on a mission to get our holiday back on track, first we needed WiFi so of I went to the reception to pay and get a WiFi code, my first email was to the travel agent that booked our holiday, telling her I was less than impressed about the Wheelchair transfer and the bathroom situation these both needed sorting asap, I knew i wouldn’t get an email back straight away so we decided to try the town again and see if it was any different in the day time, there was a little glimmer of hope most of the eating places had tables outside on the pathway or over the road on the Promenade after getting breakfast down us we went back to the hotel.
I had received an email from our travel agent saying I’m sorry don’t know how this happened leave it with me, after a few emails exchanges I receive this one about the Wheelchair transfer
“I remember as I have all those stats of your chair, maybe I didn’t Stress to the transfer people that it doesn’t fold??”
the rest of the day we exchanged a fair amount of emails, in between the back and forth e-mails I went to log a complaint at reception about the room and food, by lunchtime I received this email
“I have spoken to the supplier who has advised they have been given a disabled room however if guests would like to be shown another room which may be a little bigger, please visit reception and the staff will be able to assist”
(This would be this last email I would receive from my travel agent) The fact that still this company was not understanding it wasn’t the size of the room, it was the fact bathroom wasn’t a walking in with fixed shower chair, so to make a point I went to the reception and ask them to show me the bigger room, for the manager to tell me he was the person loveholidays had spoken to and informed me that he told them all other rooms in the hotel had baths so there would be know point showing me any other room in the hotel, the manager went on to ask what Is the issue with the shower area, explaining to him I need a fixed shower chair to the wall so I can safely have a shower as I can’t stand on my own or move myself, he said ok leave it with me I’ll get our maintenance man to get one for you and fix it for you, come back in a few hours and it will be sorted for you, thinking wow ok this Is great went off to tell my husband what the plan was and a few hours later we headed back to the hotel and our room as we opened the door there was a white plastic garden chair just sat there, saying out loud no they wouldn’t just give me this would they!? went to look at the bathroom and nothing no fix shower chair, they have the white plastic garden chair was my shower chair not knowing whether to laugh or cry my husband and I just looked at each other by this point my husband was now furious, my next email to the travel agent wasn’t full of congratulations on both parties for job well done, it was past 5pm so I knew I wasn’t getting anything back till the following day.
We had reached day 3 my wheels where in full breaking point mode enough was enough, my travel agent sent an email telling me she was out of the office (funny she never told me that yesterday) telling my cousin and sending her a picture of the plastic garden chair, she hit Twitter picture and all tagging me, loveholidays and Muscular Dystrophy uk after MDUK tweeted back to get in contact so did love holidays, again having to explain the situation to a different person in loveholidays these people were called the in resort team I explained this is not what I booked, I told them I needed to be moved and why this was there reply
“All team members are fully trained to sell holidays, unfortunately as we are a booking agent we do not have first-hand experience with all of our hotels. Prior to your travel we requested that you are provided with a disabled room and the hotel have confirmed that you have this room. Regrettably you are unhappy with this room type as it does not meet your expectations and we have passed this feedback on so we can look into these rooms in further detail”
Fully trained to sell holidays, doesn’t meet my expectations to say I was livid was an understatement so I stressed again it’s not what I asked for let alone paid for this next email I received
“We have spoken to the hotel supplier who has confirmed if you were to check out prior to 12pm tomorrow you will have £870.74 to find and put towards a new hotel. All other hotels are fully booked in your area. Therefore your options are, to up with your original accommodation, take photographic evidence of the room you are currently in and complain upon your return. Or, we can refund you £870.74 if you were to check out before 12pm tomorrow and you can try to find a hotel local”
The fact that love holidays had offered and where willing for anyone in a wheelchair to check out and find a new hotel to follow with everywhere Is fully booked is insane to me, we couldn’t even guarantee being able to get a flight home that day if we couldn’t find a new hotel, let alone have the money for new flights we were stuck neither one of us was willing to risk it, sucking it up looked like our only option, my last email to love holidays while on holiday was simply “I’d deal with you when I get home”
We counted down the days till home time having to make the best out of a bad situation and yes the only way I had a wash was filling the sink with hot water and using a flannel to say I was upset and didn’t feel degraded I would be lying, I had to suck it up as my husband was struggling everyday to hold in how angry he was so I couldn’t show it in front of him it would have made it worse, the last few days we was running low on money we already had a budget going out, it wasn’t helped by not being able or prepared to eat at the hotel in being scared that one of us could get ill, it got that bad in one occasion I had bread and butter with an apple and my husband went into town a got a couple of large pizza slices that where €2 each for dinner. We where roughly spending €40 a day on food.
To say on home day when that time came to come home we weren’t over excited I would lying.
Over the year of fighting this company for our money back they hid behind the words “were only a booking agent” in every email they sent me, they tell you your whole holiday is protected when booking but fail to tell you after you have booked that in fact your hotel isn’t protected by ABTA, and yet they add at the bottom of their emails and I quote “we would advised you to contact a third-party such as ABTA” they pass you from one person to the next, over the space of a year the offer of a refund went from 10% until reached 50% and a £150 voucher to use with them, telling them in the nicest possible way to exchange the voucher into cash as I never going to use them again, we had come to the last and final offer they was prepared to give they would change the £150 voucher and add it to the 50% refund plus the transfer refund, I had a hard decision to make take the offer or take it further I was undecided as I wanted an apology for one and for them to acknowledge that they needed to drastically change just using the words disabled room when booking isn’t good enough, my husband wanted me to take it straight away as it had affected my health and he just wanted it over with for my sake, I did take my time to give them my answer and looked at my other options at the same time, I also sent the CEO Alex Francis a recorded delivery 4 page letter about my holiday as I thought he would want to know how his staff where treating people I never received a response, I made the decision to end it but on the understanding that I got an email with an apology plus they took responsibility for their part. I’m still waiting to this day for that email.
I don’t think this company will ever take full responsibility for their part, not one of loveholidays staff had any intention of helping me while I was in a foreign country, the fact that one of the e-mails States “we don’t even check the hotels before hand” and being told to put up with what we had, my safety meant absolutely nothing to this company, the feeling of being degraded as a human being will never leave me, they actually made me feel like I was a disabled person no one should be put in the same situation as I was but I know I’m not the only one out there.
I hope my story helps just one person to keep fighting even if you think there’s no hope of getting anything back keep pushing no matter what, even in my darkest moments with this company over the year getting the same answers over and over I wasn’t going to give up they needed to know that you can’t treat anyone with any disability they way they have.
Why has it taken me so long to share my story, for me this holiday is still very emotionally raw just writing it all this down again still bring me tears, plus just because I’ve had a part refund should I not tell my story of a company that treats people/customers the way they do with lies, deceit and such disregard Just to line one man pocket’s the CEO Alex Frances.