A Model Complaint Letter (And Why You Should Never Travel On National Express)

Travel is often full of minor annoyances, but sometimes things go so badly that complaining is the only option. Here’s one example of how to go about it, plus a firm warning to any UK-bound travellers to avoid National Express at all costs.

A little context: I’ve been on holiday with friends and their family in the UK, and we’ve unexpectedly become stuck as a result of the Icelandic volcano activity. To make the most of the extra time, we scheduled a day trip to Cambridge by coach, but things went very badly wrong. As a result, I can only suggest that any fellow readers planning a European holiday avoid National Express no matter how appealing their prices might look. Our experience suggests the only reason the prices are low is that the maintenance system is non-existent.

Not only did National Express (the largest coach company in the UK) provide an abysmal experience in both directions, even their complaints process leaves a lot to be desired. As well as refusing to accept an Australian email address (claiming it wasn’t valid), it also promises a response within “10 working days” — hardly a model approach for a consumer-centric company.

In one way, this isn’t the ideal complaint letter: it doesn’t specify the outcome required by the traveller. But sometimes, all you can do is vent.

Let me tell you how your useless company ruined our family day out to Cambridge.

It all started when the 09:15 service from Stratford to Cambridge arrived on time and then promptly broke down. At 10:00 we tried to call your company to see if we could use our tickets another day, but no-one was available to take our call . . . Meanwhile the 10:15 service came and left.

The bus driver was kept in the dark like the rest of us “mushrooms” while we waited and waited for — wait for it — three Ford Transit minivans, which turned up one and a half hours after we were due to depart, and at about the time we were due to arrive at our destination. Of course they didn’t send buses with enough seats and four of our travelling companions were left on the pavement! Well done…

The “replacement” buses were from a hire company, which beggars belief. Surely you would have had a few spare coaches, especially given none of the services to Stansted or other airports would have been running. A bus company without buses is like a pub without beer! Unbelievable . . . but, it gets better!

We used our now limited time in Cambridge to have a quick look around before boarding our booked return service – the 15:30 back to Stratford. Wait for it… as we were boarding the bus driver told us that the air conditioning was broken and there was nothing he could do about it.

So, for the hour and a half back to Stratford, on a sunny day, we all sweated like pigs and slowly dehydrated. So, now with a splitting headache I write to thank you for thoroughly and most completely ruining our day with your substandard service, epic incompetence and lack of duty of care for your customers.

I don’t anticipate a response as I expect your web form is as useless as the rest of your business. I would not give you guys a licence to operate a worm farm, let alone a corporate entity, supposedly providing a “service” to the paying public!

What tactics do you use when complaining — and what are the worst travel experiences you’ve had (National Express or otherwise)? Tell us in the comments.

Lifehacker Australia editor Angus Kidman loves a good complaint letter. His Road Worrier column, looking at technology and organising tips for travellers, appears each week on Lifehacker.

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