Train ride turned into bus ride, but re­fund didn’t fol­low

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - TRAVEL - By Christo­pher El­liott

A: I’m sorry your sleeper train turned into a bus ride. It looks as if Thello tried its best to get you to your des­ti­na­tion on time, but it fell a lit­tle short in the ameni­ties de­part­ment.

You’re ab­so­lutely cor­rect, you’re en­ti­tled to a par­tial re­fund for this Thello prob­lem. The Rail Pas­sen­ger Rights Reg­u­la­tion 2007 (EC) No 1371/ 200 re­quires re­funds and min­i­mum ser­vice lev­els. For ex­am­ple, the op­er­a­tor must pay 50% of the ticket price if the de­lay is more than two hours.

My ad­vo­cacy team and I run into this prob­lem al­most ev­ery day. Al­though

We re­served a two-per­son com­part­ment on the Thello night train from Paris to Venice last sum­mer. A mud­slide on the tracks led to the can­cel­la­tion of our train. Thello sub­sti­tuted bus ser­vice from Paris to Mi­lan, and then Tren­i­talia train ser­vice from Mi­lan to Venice. Thello was dis­or­ga­nized and didn’t al­ways com­mu­ni­cate with us.

We paid for an en­tire two-per­son com­part­ment but got the same bus seats as every­one else. Thello em­ploy­ees told us we’d get a re­fund for the fare dif­fer­ence and gave us in­struc­tions on how to ap­ply. The train from Mi­lan to Venice was full, so we had no as­signed seats and ended up sit­ting on stools in the restau­rant car. We ar­rived in Venice al­most five hours later than the orig­i­nally sched­uled trip.

I sub­mit­ted the re­quest for com­pen­sa­tion on the Thello web­site. It said they’d re­ply within 30 days as re­quired by EU law. They never did. I sub­mit­ted a se­cond re­quest and sent an email — still, no re­sponse. The es­ca­la­tion pro­ce­dures are meant for EU cit­i­zens, so I’m un­sure how to pur­sue this.

I be­lieve I am en­ti­tled to a re­fund of the dif­fer­ence be­tween the cost of the en­tire two-per­son com­part­ment ($392) and two reg­u­lar tick­ets ($176). The train ar­rived in Venice al­most five hours late. Un­der EU law, I be­lieve we are also due a 50% re­fund on the reg­u­lar ticket price, which is an ad­di­tional $88. Can you help me re­solve this Thello prob­lem? the law re­quires a rail op­er­a­tor or an air­line to com­pen­sate its pas­sen­gers, it’s a lit­tle fuzzy on the time­line. That al­lows a com­pany like Thello to take its sweet time. And that’s ex­actly what it did.

Why do com­pa­nies stall? They may not have the staff nec­es­sary to is­sue a prompt re­fund. But the foot-drag­ging might also be in­ten­tional. If the com­pany makes you wait long enough, you might give up. That’s es­pe­cially true if you’re over­seas.

Track­ing down a con­tact at Thello wasn’t easy. My non­profit con­sumer ad­vo­cacy site, El­, has a team of vol­un­teer re­searchers who jumped on this Thello prob­lem. They dis­cov­ered that Thello, a rel­a­tively new rail op­er­a­tor in Europe, is owned by Tren­i­talia, which is part of the FS Group. I reached out to FS Group on your be­half. It sent a full re­fund, as promised.

Christo­pher El­liott is the om­buds­man for Na­tional Ge­o­graphic Trav­eler mag­a­zine and the au­thor of “How to Be the World’s Smartest Trav­eler.” You can read more travel tips on his blog, el­, or email him at [email protected]­

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