Plan your travel properly

December 13, 2017

With school holidays underway and the Christmas spirit around, consumers will be surely travelling to and fro outer islands to celebrate the festive season with their loved ones. For those who are not able to travel, tend to send parcels over to their families and friends.

When planning local travel, many rely on inter-island shipping services.

This is easy on the consumers pocket and allows for more goods to be carried on board at a lower cost in comparison to airline services. However, over the years the Council has noted through the influx of complaints that consumers do not get value for their money when accessing shipping services.

Instead many are subject to delayed services, discomfort during the travel causing unnecessary frustration and disgust.

Over the past five years more than 40 cases have been registered with the Council with a monetary value of more than $20,000.

Aggrieved consumers have expressed dismay over the poor services provided by the shipping companies. In some cases, consumers paid for their respective seats but were forced to take shelter in any given space due to overcrowding in the vessel.

Further, consumers had to wait for a prolonged period for the vessel to depart, loss or damage of baggage and belongings, reschedule of departure dates and times without adequate notice and lack of proper redress for consumers whose items go missing or get damaged.

In one particular case, Petero who resides in Suva was travelling to Udu in Macuata. He paid extra money for two cartons of groceries and gifts, which he was carrying for his family on the island. To begin with, the vessel departure time was delayed by more than 30 minutes due to some glitches.

In addition, during the voyage Petero felt uncomfortable in his seat as foul smell was emanating from around him. After looking around, he noticed that food items were scattered under the seats and it seemed like the vessel was not cleaned prior to boarding.

Somehow, Petero managed to complete his journey, as he had to meet his family.

Unfortunately, at the island, Petero was only handed over one carton of gifts while the carton of groceries were missing. His immediate enquiry on the missing items did not meet with success, as the vessel staff denied any loss of baggage.

Petero then sought the Council’s assistance in getting a refund of $60, which was the approximate cost of the groceries which went missing. After the Council’s intervention, the shipping company compensated Petero.

In a number of cases, the Council has noted that the consumer belongings tend to be openedwithout their consent while in some cases, items have gone missing altogether.

Few companiesdid not take any responsibility of the missing or damaged cargo.How secure are consumers’ goods when sent via inter-island shipping services? Why do theseitems go missing while under the care of shipping companies?

Who will compensate the consumerwhen their cargo goes missing?Shipping companies should note that consumers pay for their services and hence, have the right tosafe and secure travel.

Further, consumers expect the shipping companies to safe keep their cargountil it reaches the destination. This is for the simple reason that consumers pay a price for theiradditional baggage.

This festive season, the Council encourages the shipping companies to follow their respectivetimetable to ensure that consumers reach their destinations on schedule.

Shipping companiesshould also avoid overloading, as this heavily inconveniences passengers, particularly, for thosetravelling for more than 3 hours.

The shipping companies must monitor their ticket sales to gaugethe number of passengers they can carry on board. Passengers should not be made to suffer due tothe shipping company’s poor organization skills.

While there are improvements in the areas of service delivery, however, much more can be donein order to ensure consumers are provided the service as per their expectations.

The travelling consumers deserve a much better service and it is time for the stakeholders toseriously look into this and take action against companies who cannot perform.

Alternatively, consumers are also urged to pre-plan their trips this festive season to avoid lastminute disruptions. Consumers should further secure their carry baggage properly in order to avoiddamages and unwarranted losses.

Consumers are advised to seek the Council’s assistance and/or lodge complaints on the NationalConsumer Helpline toll-free number 155 if they are facing similar situations.