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Cabin baggage confusion costs traveller her £11,000 Antarctic cruise

In Europe
May 16, 2024

“On Sunday 12 February 2023, I set off from home to Manchester airport for the holiday of a lifetime,” says Valerie Coleshaw.

“By Monday 13 April I was home by breakfast, without luggage and in total despair.”

Ms Coleshaw, from Bolton, lost her £11,000 Antarctic cruise with Hurtigruten (now HX) after cabin crew on a KLM flight from Manchester to Amsterdam asked her to check in her cabin baggage “as the plane was extremely full”.

Dream trip: Fridtjof Nansen, Antarctic cruise ship (HX)

Dream trip: Fridtjof Nansen, Antarctic cruise ship (HX)

She says she was told her hand luggage would be returned to her at Amsterdam, where she was due to transfer to Buenos Aires and onwards to the southern Argentinian port of Ushuaia.

“I have heard of this happening before. So after checking several times that I would pick it up in Amsterdam, I agreed,” she says.

“Arriving at Amsterdam, my case was not on the carousel. I was advised to go straight to the boarding gate for Buenos Aires and it would be waiting for me there. It wasn’t.

“After hours of badgering the staff, my hand luggage could not be found. In it was my asthma spray.”

She explained to ground staff that her medication was missing. They told the captain of the KLM plane, who decided she would not be able to make the 7,100-mile journey without the asthma spray.

“I was left with a member of staff who said she would try to put me on another flight the next day. I realised that without my hand luggage I would have the same problem.

“I could not contact Hurtigruten as all the paperwork was in my hand luggage.

“Having never experiencing anything like this before, I felt humiliated and confused. I was given vouchers for a hotel and flight back to Manchester the following morning.”

KLM says when passengers are asked to put cabin baggage in the hold, they are asked to remove valuables and items needed during their flights as the hand luggage will be forwarded to the final destination.

Ms Coleshaw disputes that this happened and says that she was told the cabin baggage would be waiting for her at Amsterdam airport.

“I have never before been parted from my hand luggage but went along with the request – even checking four times before I boarded the flight to Amsterdam that it would be waiting for me,” she says.

“I had no additional handbag in which to store my documents, tickets and asthma spray. I had only a mobile phone, credit card and passport in my pocket.

“No one ever suggested to me to remove my medication, tickets, holiday reservation, emergency contact details and so on. Had they done so, I would have taken my hand luggage on board.”

KLM gave Ms Coleshaw a full refund for the value of the flights plus a £500 voucher for future travel.

“It suggests quite strongly to me that they understood the implications of my cases travelling on the plane without me,” she says.

However, the air fare was just a small proportion of the total cost of the holiday. Ms Coleshaw paid Hurtigruten £10,660 for the package, and spent hundred of pounds more on preparations for the trip including travel insurance, guidebooks and Antarctic clothing that she never got to wear.

Under the Package Travel Regulations, the organiser of a holiday – in this case Hurtigruten (now HX) – is responsible for providing the trip as booked, including services contracted out such as flights.

Normally, if an airline does not fly a passenger in time to begin their holiday, the customer would expect a full refund.

But the cruise company does not accept that KLM was at fault, and therefore is refusing to hand the money back.

Instead, HX (formerly Hurtigruten) is offering £8,500 for an alternative cruise as a goodwill gesture.

Ms Coleshaw describes the offer as “honourable but not usable”. She tried to use some of the credit on a West African cruise, but the voyage was cancelled by the company ahead of departure.

She says her circumstances have changed significantly since losing the cruise, leaving her unable to plan any similar expedition. She has suffered a serious shoulder injury, and the health of her 95-year-old mother has deteriorated.

A spokesperson for HX said: “We are disappointed that we have been unable to resolve this current issue to date. Our guest experience team have been in direct contact with Ms Coleshaw for several months now and we have worked hard to try and find a resolution to this situation.

“Following a thorough review of this booking, we offered a ‘Future Cruise Credit’, equivalent to the value of the sailing and available for use on all our itineraries around the world. This amount far exceeds our standard cancellation policy and was provided by our team as a sincere goodwill gesture.

“Furthermore, we have also offered the opportunity to extend the rebooking period to the end of 2024, for any expedition voyage departing through to the end of 2025.

“We remain fully committed to making this option available to Ms Coleshaw. Our dedicated guest experience team will continue to look for a suitable resolution to this matter, in line with what has already been offered, and hope this can be achieved soon.”

Ms Coleshaw says: “I chose Hurtigruten for two reasons: one, I had travelled with them before and it was top class; and two, the flights were included so I felt that I had peace of mind if a connecting flight were delayed.

“I did not cancel my ‘Holiday of a Lifetime’ – but realised that without medication and everything in my hand luggage I would be unable to travel further. I asked repeatedly at the boarding gate about the collection of my hand luggage, and was told it would be waiting for me.”

She says the pursuit of the refund “is having a considerable impact on my health and well-being”.

“I am beginning to give up the challenge and quit, but it is so much money as well as the shattered dream.”

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