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A Consumer Rights Specialist Writes #4

The Dorset Consumer Rights Association Logo is a near-guarantee of sound advice for the consumer. The present writer is not a member nor is he approved by the Association.

As a consumer rights specialist, I am often asked: "What if the goods or services I receive are objectively different from those I believe I purchased?" This is a good question to which there is no straightforward answer.

To begin with, we should distinguish between two very different scenarios: viz

Scenario 1: The goods or services I receive are objectively BETTER than those I purchased

Scenario 2: The goods or services I receive are objectively WORSE than those I purchased.

In the former case, my advice would be: accept the good fortune that has fallen your way, keep quiet and hope you get away with it. In the latter case, I would complain as vehemently as is currently allowed within the framework of the Public Disorder [Customer Complaints] Act.

An example of the latter came to my attention only the other day. A noteworthy member of the Dorset B-list celebrity community [we will call her BO] booked a first-class seat on a flight from Sydling St Nicholas International Airport to Bare Regis operated by troubled carrier AeroThreadbone. She did so online, encouraged by a picture of a Boeing Dreamliner bearing the Company's new and [some would say] rather fetching Thrupiece-inspired branding. She felt confident that she was in for a first-class experience, particularly as she was telephoned a day before the flight and asked whether she would prefer tomato or pickle on her deluxedeli inflight sandwich. One can only imagine her dismay when the in-service aircraft was not "as pictured" [see below]. From this point on, the situation was lost and the inflight toilet incident an accident just waiting to happen.

Contrasting Experiences: The aeroplane on which Mrs O found herself flying [BELOW] was not exactly as pictured on the website [ABOVE].

So Mrs Oats asks: "Am I entitled to a partial or even full refund?". Before addressing that question directly, it is worth pausing to ask what, if anything, Mrs Oats could have done to prevent the situation she found herself in from arising in the first place. After all, as my old granny used to say, "prevention is nine-tenths of the law and a stitch in time is better than a cure". So what, had she been more consumer-savvy, might Mrs Oats have done and how can other consumers benefit from his unfortunate experience?

1. Avoid online booking as this often leads to digital [mis]representation followed by analogue disappointment

2. Ask specifically if the aircraft pictured will be the one supplied. [TIP: Have a ruler handy to check for any scale-based scams or misinformation; aeroplanes can appear both larger and smaller in photographs than they are in real life especially when a fish-eye lens is employed].]

3. Make sure you have visited an appropriate facility and are completely "empty" BEFORE boarding any aircraft

4. Claim an allergy and ask for a fat-free yoghurt in lieu of the [always disapppointing] deluxedeli sandwich.

Returning now to the bigger picture and Mrs Oat's position in law ... Whilst consumer rights legislation has tightened appreciably in recent years giving ever more power to the customer, it has not yet impacted significantly on domestic flights with under-capitalised operators. Since AeroThreadbone did not specifically state that the aeroplane on which Mrs Oats would be travelling would be that illustrated on the website [or even the one shown in the diagram from which he chose her seat] and since she did not state in advance that he had a medical condition causing her to urinate at least once every 18 hours, she doesn't - as far as the letter of the law is concerned - have a leg to stand on. This is not to say that a passenger carrier may not be under some moral obligation to come clean regarding the actual aeroplanes it operates as well as the functionality of the onboard facilities it offers, this is still very much down to individual operators and their consciences. So good luck with that BO!

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