10 APRIL 1964, Page 32

Consuming Interest

Journey into Trouble


You see, you should have struck out those booking conditions in minuscule italic on the back of the enrolment form, especially the bit about 'takes no responsibility whatever for any eventuality and reserves the right to cancel or alter any arrangements without notice and cannot undertake to refund any part of the moneys. . . Oh, well, perhaps everything will be all right, but what a pity you forgot to insure your luggage, or to take out a Pluvius policy (you know how it rains in Corsica in Septem- ber• some years), or to keep all the original cor- respondence with the travel agent, or to get some £2 travellers' cheques for last-minute currency needs, or to pack a first-aid kit. Uncle Matthew was right.

Seriously, though, they've done a grand job. Literally, they haven't missed a trick. And regular readers of this column will know by now how many and varied are the tricks they can get up to. I mean, it's not just the foreigners (and they're bad enough), even British travel agents switch airplanes on you, plonk you into the annexe instead of the private room with bath and view of mountains on clear day, and charge extra for meals en route, overnight stops in transit and services of courier in situ.

My sympathy goes out to the travel agent (in spite of any impressions give to the contrary on previous occasions), because not only has he all these foreign hoteliers, airline operators and officials to contend with, but now he will also have thousands of sea (and air) lawyers quoting at him from this exhaustive little hand- book, instead of quietly doing what they're told. One or two might even sue. I know one man who is still trying to get a meal out of an airline who sent him by train instead of first-class air because of bad weather, but the dining car had run out of food. Now he wants a meal, or some o•f his money back. There is no ruling on this situation specifically in CA's booklet, but it covers virtually everything else that might arise. And plugs the message that, even if you can't get satisfaction, complain, complain, com- plain. The benefits will accrue to your tamer fellow travellers. And, equally important, praise where it is deserved.

Personally, I cannot praise too highly the thoroughness year after year of the Guide Michelin, which has now, not surprisingly, gone up to 25s. a copy. It does a wonderful PR job for France as a tourist country, incidentally. Half an hour with the Guide and I start making plans to eat and drink my way around the Auvergne, or the Loire Valley, or anywhere between the Pas de Calais and the Pyrenees. But on any motoring holiday around France (or using the local buses which I have done with great success in Provence and Brittany) I would take along a copy of the Guide des Relais Routiers, a 19s. catalogue of those unique lorry- drivers' eating places strung right across France into Belgium, Holland, Switzerland, and even into what used to be French Africa. Among the 5,000 French hotels with 10s. meals with wine (always check that point before disputing the bill) and 14s. bedrooms there are 138 relais casserole, restaurants marked with a drawing of a casserole, signifying that the cooking is par- ticularly good or of a strong regional character.

The big news about Michelin this year is not the withdrawal of a star here nor the awarding of an additional star there, but the dropping of all three stars from the Cote d'Or, Saulieu, on the retirement of its great chef, M. Dumaine, whose pupil, M. Minot, will no doubt win them back one by one in due course. By an odd co- incidence the director-general of the Relais des Routie•rs is Francois de Saulieu.

More and more people, organisations and institutions are concerning themselves these days with protecting the consumer, but not always, perhaps, in the way they should. I have come across two examples recently of the wrong approach to the correcting of• widespread de- ficiencies—in the manufacturing of cameras and cars, bOth complicated, expensive products.

Wallace Heaton have a sign in the window of their shop in Berkeley Street which reads: 'In the Best Interests of our Customers we test all new cameras and other equipment because we have found that one in five are faulty when de- livered to us. Part of the Wallace Heaton Super Service.' As a customer, 1 am more than grateful for their vigilance, but why on earth should they have to correct failings in 20 per cent of their cameras before they sell them? Couldn't they and other retailers, instead, insist that manufacturers improve their quality control and reduce the appallingly high proportion of de- fective cameras?

Courtenay Edwards, motoring correspondent of the Sunday Telegraph, reports that a friend of his took delivery of a new car •and found that, in the first 200 miles, the door handle fell off, the windscreen wipers stopped wiping, the gear lever was so stiff that he couldn't engage bottom gear and the luggage boot wouldn't open. His suggestion (not Courtenay Edwards's) for getting over this is that small, independent, local firms could do good business by taking your new car and, for a fee of £10 or so, run it in, road test it, give it a thorough check, eliminate all the 'bugs' and argue with the dealer and, if necessary, with the manufacturer on your behalf.

Again,• why on earth should the customer have to pay for the manufacturer's carelessness and for the dealer's failure to do what he is paid to do? As Courtenay Edwards says, motor- ists 'expect—and are entitled to expect--3 reasonably' trouble-free product when they spend perhaps a third of theft annual income on a new car.'

Consumer protection should begin at the beginning, not half-way through when the mistakes that cost the customer money have already been made.