We all know that trains can be a royal pain in the hole, but one is coming under intense scrutiny after being accused of having ‘flea infested seats’.

Greater Anglia are coughing up £30 million to fix problems after furious customers complained about the state of the trains that connect London to the south-east of England.

Greater Anglia trains 500x332 Train company forks out £30 million to fix flea infested seats

A Twitter page called @Delayed_Again deals with commuters’ complaints about the service, and shares a wide range of negative views. Ian Edwards, who runs the account, told the Mirror that the train carriages are like ‘filthy skips’. He added: ”The carriages have not had a proper clean since the Olympics in 2012. During the Olympics the trains ran brilliantly and were really clean, but it just hasn’t carried on.”

“We’ve got photos of people with flea bites from the seats and the dust that comes up. The toilets are an absolute disgrace – they’re always blocked. I expect a reliably run, air conditioned, clean train and I get none of the above. Instead, I’ve got a 1980s skip that is falling to pieces without air conditioning.”

As you can see from the pictures, the carriages look like they’re in a state of disrepair and could do with more than just a clean.

Greater Anglia trains 2 500x500 Train company forks out £30 million to fix flea infested seats

Abellio Greater Anglia defended themselves by saying that they’ve invested more than £30 million to upgrade their service, including 40 extra cleaners.

A spokesman for Abellio Greater Anglia said: “We are investing more than £30m to improve our train fleet, customer service and train performance and cleanliness. We have recently recruited 40 extra cleaners to bring our train presentation staff to 300 across our company.”

“We have increased the frequency of deep cleans and undertaken more extensive cleaning on trains throughout the day. Our train cleaners are working very hard to improve standards and we welcome customers’ co-operation to keep our trains clean and tidy.”

Bank Holiday rail strike is officially off!

May 21st, 2015 No Comments By Mof Gimmers

train1 297x300 Bank Holiday rail strike is officially off!After all that fuss about the strike that was happening on the railways this Bank Holiday weekend, with people thinking they wouldn’t be able to ride the rails to fun and sunshine (or, seeing parent and being rained on), worry no more!

The strike by various unions has been called off and suspended after Network Rail put a new pay offer on the table. Whether you think they deserve a pay-rise or not, is beside the point – you can catch trains this weekend and worry about it another time.

Meanwhile, the Tube drivers on London Underground are still to be balloted for strikes in a squabble over pay for new all-night services, but that won’t have any impact in the immediate future.

So, will all the trains be running as normal this weekend? Well, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be, but keep an eye out for announcements.

The RMT’s general secretary, Mick Cash, said: “Following the Acas talks, RMT has received a revised offer that enables us to suspend the planned industrial action while we consult in full with our Network Rail representatives.”

Southern Rail fine customers for standing

May 21st, 2015 3 Comments By Mof Gimmers

train Southern Rail fine customers for standingSouthern Rail are a PR disaster at the moment. A director at the train company admitted that their trains being on time were ‘few and far between’, while one fella hates them so deeply, that they got a tattoo announcing as such, with some rather colourful language to boot.

And now, they’re only making themselves look worse as they’ve fined a bunch of customers who were forced to stand-up because the train was too crowded.

Commuters heading to London found themselves on a train that was so packed that they had to stand-up in the first class section, because their wasn’t room anywhere else. Did anyone make provisions or stop this from happening? Of course not. Southern Rail ticket inspectors were too busy doling out fines because customers didn’t have the right ticket.

Add all this to being one of the least punctual train companies in the country, coupled with some of the highest fares, and you’ll see why people think they’re a laughing stock.

Peter Boyland wrote to his MPs - Crispin Blunt and Sam Gyimah – to complain about all this, saying: ”The train was so packed in fact that the ‘revenue officers’ were unable to pass through to me to check my ticket, despite my clear proximity to them. This is a fine example of the attitude of Southern, who only seem concerned about protecting their revenue, and less about providing an acceptable level of service.”

A Southern Rail spokesperson said that these fines are just dandy, and with a straight-face, said that passengers would have been fined either £20 or twice the price of a single fare – they choose the fine by going for whichever of the two amounts is greater.

“In this instance, passengers who were issued with penalty fares were sitting in first class accommodation whilst holding standard class tickets. First class accommodation is not declassified automatically if the train is busy, but Conductors can use their discretion to declassify if it is deemed necessary,” the spokesperson told The Independent.

Refund and Compensation

If you think you’re entitled to a refund or some compensation, have a look at our guide to getting your money back. While the train wasn’t late enough to get reimbursed, the fact remains that Southern didn’t provide an adequate service and it is worth trying to dispute the fines and asking for the price of your ticket back.

Let us know how you get on.

london underground sign 300x199 How to... get a refund from Transport for LondonWe’ve told you how to get a refund from train companies, but what about Transport for London? If your DLR or London Underground tube train left you unsatisfied, you can get compensation, and here’s how.

If your Tube or DLR service was delayed by 15 minutes or more, or your London Overground service was delayed by 30 minutes or more, TfL will refund you the single fare for the journey you were delayed on.

Of course, they’ll only refund you if the service is delayed by something that they deem to be in their hands. They won’t cough-up if the journey has been held up by planned service changes and engineering work.

They won’t pay out if there’s a security alert, or ‘a customer incident’. There’s the old chestnut of ‘averse weather conditions’ too. Also, if you’re enjoying free travel concessions, you can’t get a refund on that.

How To Apply For A Refund

Okay, if you made your journey with an Oyster card, a paper ticket, key card or c2c smartcard, here’s how you apply for a refund. You have to apply within 14 days of your delayed journey. You’ll need your Oyster card to do it – then, click here, and start the refund process.

Sign-in online and hit the ’My Refunds’ tab, hit ’service delay refund’ and follow the instructions there.

There’s a ‘paper ticket’ option, which allows you to claim back for other types of journey. Or, if you travelled with a contactless payment card, you’ll have to sign-in to your TfL online account and then click on the contactless payment card you travelled with and in the ‘card details’ bit, hit the ‘claim for service delay’ option.

And you can watch this video too.

Deathwatch: Thomson and First Choice

May 14th, 2015 No Comments By Thewlis

Bitterwallet Thomson seat fees Deathwatch: Thomson and First ChoiceThings are looking up aren’t they? We have more disposable income than we’ve had in a long time and we’re all looking forward to our summer jollies. Still, it seems that despite increased bookings and a higher average spend, two of the UK’s best known travel brands are set to disappear after owner TUI confirmed plans to use a single brand to promote its holidays.

Both Thomson, which dates back to 1965, and First Choice are owned by the TUI group, and following a merger of the UK TUI company with the German  TUI AG, the group has decided to sell holidays throughout Europe under a single brand, rather than under the recognised brands in each individual company. The transition expected to take up to three years.

Thomson and First Choice entertained 5.2 million holidaymakers last year, with the top getaway spots including the Canary Islands, Balearic Islands and Greece. The combined TUI brand, however, now has more than 300 hotels, 136 planes and 1,800 shops across Europe selling holidays to 30 million customers in 180 countries. TUI say that they have currently sold 59% of this year’s summer holidays, with bookings up 2% on a year ago, and average selling prices also up 1%.

But don’t cry over the loss of Thomson too soon- joint chief executive Peter Long said the firm would begin phasing out other European regional brands in the Netherlands and France, leaving First Choice and Thomson as the last brands to go.

He said: “These will be the last to be rebranded because of their size. It will give us time to learn as we go. The move is aimed at strengthening our position in our markets.”

TUI Group also owns UK hotel booking website LateRooms, but has just announced that it will also be putting the website, founded in Salford in 1999, up for sale with a view to being rid of it by the end of financial year.

Ready for some rail strikes?

May 13th, 2015 4 Comments By Mof Gimmers

train Ready for some rail strikes?Hey! The Tories are in, which means only one thing! RAIL STRIKES! Not to mention the phrase WIDESPREAD CHAOS!

It seems that the unions are planning on having a load of walkouts and only have to give 7-days notice for a strike, which means that everything could go, scientifically speaking, tits up for a bit. This newest strike has the backing of 60% of the members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union.

General secretary of the RMT Mick Cash said: “Our members have decisively rejected the pay package offered by Network Rail. This is a massive mandate for action and shows the anger of safety-critical staff across the rail network at attacks on their standards of living and their job security.”

“It is now down to NR to start taking this issue seriously, to understand the deep-seated grievance felt by their staff and to come forward with a renewed offer which protects pay and jobs.”

“As far as we are concerned, the one-off, non-consolidated, lump-sum payment this year is wholly inadequate and fails to recognise the massive pressures staff are working under to keep services running at a time when the company is generating profits of £1 billion.”

So, go buy a bicycle or a car or something.

easyjet 300x180 easyJet making profit again with record performanceThe folks at easyJet will be thrilled this week, as they herald all that lovely profit after a “record performance”.

Their results for the six months to 31st March showed a pre-tax profit of £7m, which is not bad at all, considering that the same period last year saw them making a loss of £53m.

So what caused this upsurge? Well, easyJet said that Easter being earlier helped to boost their revenue and profits, as it fell inside the reporting period, when normally, it doesn’t. Fuel bills being somewhat cheaper didn’t do them any harm either.

easyJet’s revenues grew as they made an average profit of 21p per seat, trouncing the previous year’s results of a £1.70 loss per seat.

Chief executive Carolyn McCall said: “easyJet has delivered a record performance in the first half of the year by continuing to deliver its strategy of making travel easy and affordable for passengers. The profit in the half reflects the delivery of our customer focused revenue initiatives and a strong finish to the ski season as well as the benefit we received from the lower fuel price and favourable foreign exchange movements.”

“As we enter the important summer season forward bookings are in line with last year and as we predicted passengers are benefiting as fares fall to reflect a more competitive operating environment and lower fuel costs.”

airplane Are you missing out in compensation for delayed flights?Have you had a flight that has been delayed by over three hours? Where you so relieved to finally get home, that you didn’t chase it up?

Well, it seems that people have been missing out on billions in compensation for delayed flights, as airline companies defer payouts to passengers who have been held up.

This is according to Sky News, who learned that data is showing 3.27 million passengers travelling to and from UK airports each year might have a potential claim on their hands. And the amount of cash floating around is quite something.

After the European Commission introduced the compensation laws a decade ago, an average claim is around £320, which means, according to Sky’s figures, that €1.4bn a year in compensation might be up for grabs for those who have had flights delayed by 3 or more hours. However, it seems that this has only just come to light thanks to landmark court rulings that have established a clear precedent.

Coby Benson, an aviation lawyer with Bott & Co, said: “The intention of the European Commission is that lawyers should never have been involved in this the first place. It was supposed to be a very easy system for passengers to gain compensation themselves when their flights are cancelled or delayed or they have been denied boarding.”

“It’s just unfortunate that the airlines more often than not make it extremely difficult for passengers to claim compensation and put obstacles in their way.”

In a way similar to getting compensation for train journeys, if your flight isn’t delayed by ”extraordinary circumstances” like really bad weather, terrorism and acts of vandalism, you should be able to claim compensation. According to figures, around 1.5% of flights in-and-out of the UK are delayed for longer than three hours.

How To Get A Refund

There’s an app to help you get a refund or compensation for delayed flights, which outlines your rights and whatnot. You can have a look at that by downloading it here. If you want to write a letter of complaint to an airline, then Which!!! have a template you can use.

train1 297x300 How To... get compensation for a train journeyWe spoken about train compensation before on Bitterwallet, but the whole thing is still far too tricky. As the UK has a variety of different companies, that means a dizzying variation on the rules they have in place. If you’re wanting reimbursement or compo from them, any help is worthwhile.

One useful thing is that National Rail has underlying guidelines for those travelling by train. Basically, the National Rail Conditions of Carriage are the underlying conditions for all train travel and they set what compensation you’re entitled to.

Train Delays

If your train is delayed or late, then you’re entitled to a minimum of 20% of your single ticket or, 10% of your return. Regarding the latter, you’re entitled to 20% if both legs of your journey was late. Crucially, your train has be more than an hour late.

A lot of the train companies have different compensatory rules on this, so it is worth checking them first, as they’re likely to be more generous with payouts. Generally, train companies will pay out 50% of your ticket if your train is more than 30 minutes late. Don’t be surprised if you get vouchers, rather than money. If you’d rather have the cash, be sure to state this clearly when making your complaint.

If you’re getting a refunds for season ticket, then your compensation will be based on a calculation of the cost of your daily travel.

Your Rights in a Smartphone App

One thing you should know about is that the European Commission have an app for passengers’rights, should you need to make a complaint. If you want that, click here.

Exceptions

Of course, there’s exceptions. If you have a delay, a cancellation or poor service that is deemed to be outside the train’s control, then they could well tell you to sling it. What are these things? They include gas leaks, acts of terrorism, fires, things done by vandals, suicides, riots, industrial action, lines that have been closed at the request of the emergency services and… here we go… exceptionally severe weather conditions.

Now, if there’s bad weather and you want compensation, Network Rail and the train companies have to be in agreement that the weather is, indeed, exceptionally severe. Basically, that means that, if other types of transport have been affected by the weather – if they have, you don’t get any compensation. However, if other types of transport are fine, then it is worth a punt.

One trick is, if severe weather has made your train over 1 hour late, then don’t get on your train at all and claim a refund, rather than go for compensation.

Duty of Care if you’re Stranded

If you end up stranded because of your train company, you’re in business. Basically, your train company should either get you to your destination or, if that’s not possible, they should give you overnight accommodation. If they don’t, you should raise hell.

Ryanair lowers airport fees

May 6th, 2015 No Comments By Mof Gimmers

ryanair laptop Ryanair lowers airport fees Ryanair are continuing their quest to win hearts and minds by indulging in some hugs and kisses for all customers. Not literally, of course.

This week, they announced that they’re changing some of the things they do, such as lowering their airport check-in fee from €70 to €45. And, if for missed departures, the fee has been reduced from €110 to €100. Now, it’d be much better if they killed the fees entirely, but there we go.

This is all thanks to the cuddly new Ryanair who are in the middle of their initiative called ‘Always Getting Better’, which basically means that they’ve stopped trolling everyone and trying to bleed every last penny out of humans, in favour of some customer service.

This follows Ryanair’s commitment to provide allocated seating, allowing second carry-on bags, a nice new website and a Business Plus service. The ‘Always Getting Better’ project has seen an increase in customers and is set to run for three-years. After that, they might turn into ogres again. However, while they’re making money on all this, chances are, they won’t.

So what’s next? Well, soon, Ryanair say that customers can look forward to “a brand new personalised website and app with a ‘hold the fare’ feature,” as well as new cabin interiors, crew uniforms and in-flight menus. Very nice.

CEO Michael O’Leary has said; “I would have been nicer to customers years earlier”, if he’d known that there was some money in it. He’s also vowed to slowly back away from being the public face of the airline, which is a very wise move business-wise, even if it is going to give us less things to write about.

 

expensive plane 300x225 Do you need to reclaim APD on childrens flights?As announced in last year’s Autumn Statement, from this Friday, 1 May, Air Passenger Duty (APD) will be scrapped for children under 12. Interestingly, the removal of the charge applied to both new and existing economy-class bookings, meaning if you had already booked ahead, you may have already paid APD that actually isn’t due. Unfortunately, however, not every airline is automatically processing these refunds and you may have to do something to claim back the APD, which could be up to £97 per flight.

How much you could reclaim depends on when you booked at how far you are travelling. If you booked before 19 March 2014 , besides being a very organised person, you’ll probably get £13 for flights under 2,000 miles, £69 for flights between 2,001 and 4,000 miles, £85 for flights between 4,001 and 6,000 miles, and £97 for flights over 6,000 miles. Flights booked on or after 19 March 2014 will be due a refund of £13 for flights under 2,000 miles and £71 for longer flights

Note that APD is charged only on outgoing flights from the UK, not on inbound ones and strictly speaking, is charge paid by the airlines to HMRC, although generally the cost is included in the ‘fees and charges’ element of ticket prices. As a result, if you have paid APD for children for flights leaving on or after 1 May, they ought to refund the charge, with HMRC confirming there’s no deadline to reclaim the APD. The new waiver does not apply to non-economy flights, nor on tickets for children under 2 (as they don’t have to buy a seat, therefore pay no APD). Also note that the exemption is for children under 12, at the time of the flight, so if you paid APD last year for your 11 year old who is now 12, hard cheese.

But what if your airline isn’t doing automatic refunds? MoneysavingExpert have produced a handy table which tells you which airlines are offering automatic refunds and which are not, and what you need to do. In most cases it tends to be the cheaper airlines that aren’t offering automatic refunds, but you generally just need to complete some kind of claim form in order to get your APD back. Examples of airlines that do require a some kind of action include FlyBe, Jet2, WizzAir and everyone’s favourite Ryanair. However, note that Ryanair did actually stop charging children APD over a month ago in an uncharacteristic show of generosity, and that WizzAir are claiming that some of their fares were actually lower than the APD charge, and in those cases, refunds of APD will not be given. Which seems reasonable, if far-fetched.

Finally, make sure you keep an eye on the APD paid for older children if you’re booking flights beyond 1 March 2016, when the exemption will be extended to children under 16.

Network Rail 300x150 Network Rail bosses travel by plane... because it is cheaper than trainsIn the past two years, Network Rail has spent £1.3million on domestic flights for its staff. That might not seem like such a big deal, but consider this – the company has pledged to always travel by the cheapest means possible.

So, given that Network Rail run our tracks, you’d hope that they might see something wrong with the fact that it is more expensive to travel by train than plane.

This data was found after a Freedom of Information request, which showed that Network Rail sends its employees on 12 domestic flights every day. If staff need to travel abroad, then fine, but this shows a huge lack of confidence in their own services.

A spokesman said that the company travels by air because it is cheaper than riding the rails. They were pained to point out the amount of rail travel they pay for too: “Network Rail’s 35,000 people have to pay the going rate for all travel, be it air, rail or car. Our people are also obliged to use the cheapest method available, sometimes that means by air – around £650,000 last year – but mostly we travel by rail – almost £16million last year.”

Naturally, we thought we’d check to see if Network Rail staff get discounted rail travel and, hey presto! THEY DO! On the ‘employee benefits’ section of their site, it says that staff can “claim subsidies of up to 75% on rail and Underground season tickets”. So if travelling by air is cheaper than someone with a cheap ticket, then something is very wrong.

Of course, the main bugbear here is that train tickets are rising too high, too frequently. Some have risen by 30% in 5 years. Network Rail have also overseen numerous engineering works which have cocked-up and left the lines in chaos. If Network Rail won’t travel from London to Scotland by train, why should they expect anyone else to use their shitty service?

Driving abroad? Warning!

April 27th, 2015 No Comments By Mof Gimmers

flooded cars 300x128 Driving abroad? Warning!Are you planning on going abroad this year and driving while you’re there? Well, there’s something you need to know - after 8th June, you’ll need to take a special code with you if you want to hire a car.

This is all to do with the computerisation of the paper counterpart of UK driving licences. Now, if you want to hire a motor when overseas, you’ll officially need a code to show convictions for offences like speeding.

You’ll have to go to the DVLA website for all that.

Get this – the code will only be valid for 72 hours, so if you’re planning on hiring a car after three days of your trip, you’ll have to get a code while you’re on holiday. If you don’t have internet access, there’ll be a phone number you can ring. All sounds like a bit of a faff, doesn’t it?

Concerning the paper bit of your driving licence, the DVLA is saying you can shred it and bin it after 8th June. However, the AA aren’t so sure about that. They clearly don’t trust a word the DVLA says. It would be wise to hang on to that document, in case some hire companies aren’t aware of the new arrangement.

“Not all car rental companies, or indeed traffic police abroad, will be aware of the changes, so a ‘belt and braces’ approach of also taking the counterpart might help,” said AA president Edmund King.

Trains are “sh*t” according to rail bigwig

April 24th, 2015 No Comments By Mof Gimmers

train Trains are sh*t according to rail bigwigHave you heard of Sir Peter Hendy? Well, he runs the buses and Tubes in That London, and he’s been rather forthright with his views on public transport.

He reckons that train services are far too chaotic and that commuting on them is like stepping into the Wild West. He is also very unimpressed with suburban rail operators.

Grab the popcorn, Sir Hendy is going in.

He said: “On Southeastern, the trains are like the Wild West. They are shit. Awful. And then every now and then some people who look like the Gestapo get on and fine everyone they can. It doesn’t improve your day, does it?”

He added: “People hate the suburban rail service, they hate it. If you make a mistake on your Oyster card on the Tube, we’ll refund it. On South West Trains, they’ll fine you. That’s a big philosophical difference.”

He wasn’t done by a long chalk. Sir Pete also took aim at the months of disruption that commuters have seen at London Bridge station during the work being undertaken by Network Rail, which is run by former oil honcho Mark Carne.

“I take no pleasure in saying this but Network Rail is under fire. The chief exec is a nice bloke and he has this idea about the digital railway and getting the most out of the railway in the next 30 years – but no one is listening because they can’t fix London Bridge.”

password 300x289 Move over passwords... here come the crazy ideasFirst, Yahoo! wanted to kill the password, and now Jonathan LeBlanc, global head of developer advocacy at PayPal, wants them dead too. As he says: ”Passwords are not secure, they need to be replaced.”

LeBlanc gave a presentation at a techie thing called ‘Kill All Passwords’, with a lot of people in thick-rimmed specs all nodding at the demise of passwords as we know them. ”Passwords are so complex it’s just a system that doesn’t work anymore,” chirruped CNET editor Dan Ackerman.

They’ve all been having a think about it and there’s too many sites asking for too many passwords which are hard to come up with – minimum numbers for characters, with a symbol and a number in it, with upper and lowercase letters and all that jive – which is why a lot of people use passwords like ’123456′ and the evergreen ‘password’.

LeBlanc reckons it is time to start thinking of weirder, more interesting things to get by our security measures, pointing out that there are people who are looking at scanning your eyes or face and, as you may know, Google are looking at a smart contact lens that measures the glucose in your tears. That’s not enough for LeBlanc – he wants wearable circuit board tattoos, brain chip implants and password pills that will allow you to eat your way into devices.

You may think that your body being ID is already a thing with fingerprint sensors and the like, but LeBlanc said that PayPal is working with companies who will create scans of your veins and measure your unique heartbeat, instead of passwords.

LeBlanc says: “I ground a lot of my talks in reality, but toward the end of the presentation things get a little strange.”