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Travel Law: Court Cases of Trips That Really Sucked

Is there such a thing as travel law?

We’ve all gone on trips that sucked.

It rained the whole two weeks you were in the Hawaiian island of Kauai.

Everyone caught the Norwalk virus on your cruise.

You got food poisoning followed by a bad cold and then twisted your ankle in Myanmar. (Actually, our Myanmar trip was fabulous, but that’s not the point…)

It's not fun when rain and cold weather ruins your beach holiday.
It’s not fun when rain and cold weather ruins your beach holiday

Hopefully, you’ve not been physically dragged off an airplane due to an overbooked flight. (Oh, wait. Maybe that wouldn’t be so terribly awful in the end. Because, hey, you could sue and possibly get big dollars in compensation!)

Our trip from hell

Our rental car was stolen in Portugal while we were at the beach, enroute to our next hotel – with everything in it.

Because we didn’t want our stuff stolen while at the beach, we’d smartly left our suitcases, passports, airline tickets and all our money in the trunk of the locked car – now, gone.

We had nothing on us but our skinny little bathing suits. (This was a few years ago when we could wear skinny little bathing suits.)

We were like this couple – sort of – with just our bathing suits on

We had to hitchhike barefoot to the local police station!

(Thankfully the hotel we’d just checked out of took pity on us and let us stay there again until we recovered and replaced what we needed.)

Travel law – real court cases of really bad trips

What should do you do when things go wrong on vacation?
What should do you do when things go wrong on vacation?

Anyway, to make you feel better, we’ve rounded up some travel law cases of trips that really sucked big time.

So, yes, there really is such a thing as travel law!

These cases are so bad, you can’t help but laugh. Not at the misfortune the vacationers suffered, but at how life sometimes tosses you lemons so sour, what else can you do but laugh? Or in these cases, sue.

The “wonderful” Swiss ski holiday that wasn’t

When Mr. Jarvis, a single English solicitor, booked his annual holiday to Switzerland back in 1969, he didn’t know he’d be the first person in legal history to get compensation for a disappointing holiday. 

This is the case that gave birth to travel law (and yes, there really is such a thing as a travel law specialty).

But back to Mr. Jarvis.

Poor guy. All he really wanted was the two-week ski holiday described in the brochure supplied by Swans Tours.

His hotel was going to be “a most wonderful little resort”. There would be house parties with other English-speaking guests. Yodeler evenings. Ski rentals. And nice Swiss cakes for afternoon tea.

travel law
Mr. Jarvis just wanted a nice ski holiday in Switzerland

Instead, he was the only guest stuck in a hotel where the owner couldn’t speak English.

The yodeler was a workman who came in, yodeled four times, and left. He got stubby skis instead of full-length skis, his boots rubbed, and his feet got sore. And the only cakes for tea were dry little nut cakes.

He returned to England very distressed indeed, and sued.

The English Court of Appeal decided the glowing statements in the brochure were promises that Swans Tours had broken.

Swans Tours was ordered to pay Mr. Jarvis twice the cost of the full travel package. He got more than just a mere refund – he received additional compensation for his distress and frustration caused by Swans Tours’ breach of contract.

Sleepless on a round-the-world cruise

Mr. and Mrs. Milner, who were retired, booked a three-month, around-the-world maiden voyage on a luxury cruise ship.

They would be in a lovely stateroom – located midship. (They were seasoned cruisers, and believed that a mid-ship cabin would be the least rocky in poor weather).

Mrs. Milner spent a lot of time and money choosing and buying 21 gowns for the formal dinners onboard.

The cruise was going to be the “experience of a lifetime.”

As the judge remarked, “… that is what they got, but not in the way they had bargained for.”

The problem was the ship hit stormy weather, and the floor plates in Mr. and Mrs. Milner’s cabin flexed and vibrated.

travel law
Rough seas aren’t fun on a cruise, especially if you’re prone to seasickness, or have a cabin that bangs and bangs

They made “bangs which were sequential and intermittent; the sort of bang that once you have heard it, you cannot really settle down after it because you never know whether another one will be coming afterwards,” said Mr. Milner.

They couldn’t sleep for two nights. Mrs. Milner’s chest problems and asthma worsened because of lack of sleep.

They were given an inside cabin lower down to sleep in, but it wasn’t as cushy as their own stateroom, which they used during the day and where they left their clothes.

At night, the Milners had to walk down the ship’s corridors in their dressing gowns to sleep in the inside cabin decks below.

We feel like gypsies moving about,” Mr. Milner wrote in his diary.

They were then given a suite, but a few days later had to leave that and move back into their own stateroom again. And then their ship hit heavy seas again – and the banging and noise started up again.

Finally, after 28 days on the cruise, they got off in Honolulu.

Hopefully the Milners got some sleep in Honolulu…

The cruise line refunded the Milners the two-thirds part of the cruise they didn’t use.

But the Milners also sued for more. Their trip of a lifetime had been ruined. And Mrs. Milner was terribly upset that she didn’t get a chance to wear her beautiful gowns.

As compensation for their distress, the Milners won 12,000 pounds (the equivalent of over $16,000 USD in today’s dollars).

Oops – hotel still under construction

Imagine arriving in paradise to find your hotel still under construction!
Imagine arriving in paradise to find your hotel still under construction!

The Snucins and others from the Toronto area took an “ill-fated holiday trip to the Dominican Republic.”

When they arrived, they found their hotel still under construction.

Their hotel rooms had no front doors, shutters were painted open, there was no hot water or electricity and little or no furniture, and concrete dust was everywhere.

That’s not all.

The swimming pool was also filthy. And construction noise started up at 6:30 am and continued until after lunch.

(The Caribbean beach was nice. Except the Snucins had to carry their valuables to the beach with them since they had no door to their room to lock – and then they could only go swimming one at a time so the other could look after the valuables.)

The Snucins won $2,700 CAD, which back in 1990 when this court case was decided, was worth quite a bit more than today. They also got some reimbursement of their legal fees.

What’s your holiday from hell story?

Can you top these travel law cases? Let us know in the Comments below!

About the authors

Luxury travel journalists and SATW, NATJA and TMAC “Best Travel Blog” award winners, Janice and George Mucalov are the publishers of Sand In My Suitcase. Between them, they’ve traveled to all 7 continents. See About.

Find destination guides, global food-and-wine stories, luxury hotel reviews, articles on cultural explorations and soft adventure trips, cruise reviews, insanely useful travel tips and more!

Agness of eTramping

Wednesday 28th of June 2017

I have never heard of anything like this, but it is really unpleasant!

Janice and George

Wednesday 28th of June 2017

Yes, some people have REALLY terrible trips -- on the bright side, most people have good ones :-).


Wednesday 7th of June 2017

Ha! Ha! 'Love the stories.

I once booked a B&B in Inverness, and when we got there, the B&B had completely disappeared! I had booked a year ahead as we were travelling all around Scotland in the peak season of August, so in order to get the places that I really wanted, I made a reservation. Thank goodness that I had only paid a night. This was 10 years ago so didn't exist back then, or at least, not in Germany where I live...! Anyhoo, I searched and searched, and the neighbours agreed that it "used to be there". I couldn't sue, as they didn't exist.

In the same vein, I had booked a private room in the only hostel on the Isle of Skye in Scotland (10 years ago!). Even though I had been corresponding with the owners by Email, when we got there our "private room" was gone! I was with my child who was 7 at the time so there's no way we could use the bunk rooms. The owners called every hotel on the island. None were available. We slept in the office on a make-shift camper bed. My son didn't like his "bed" so snuck into mine!! Suing? I was just happy that we had somewhere to sleep. And of course, we weren't charged!

Janice and George

Sunday 18th of June 2017

Your first story is precious! Though you probably didn't think so at the time... Your second story ended up better, at least :-). Sounds like you've still got a sense of humor about this too - something we all need when traveling, as things don't always turn out as planned!


Saturday 3rd of June 2017

HA! Great stories and happy they all got satisfaction (or revenge) in the end. I'm sorry, I was chuckling at your Portugal story, imagining the two of you with nothing but bathing suits at the police station. That must have sucked. Lots of crappy trips on our side which have included sleeping on a beach on the Greek islands, some bus rides from hell, and (a long time ago) a hotel room in Athens with cockroaches so big you could hear them moving around. But nothing we could sue over.



Saturday 3rd of June 2017

Oh, forgot - the time we had a road trip and I had the bikes up on the roof of a rental car. Except I forgot I had them up there when I went under the awning of a hotel, ripping up some of their awning, having the back wheels of the bikes come crashing through the back window, and having to get some major bike repairs. That sucked.


Saturday 3rd of June 2017

Wow, quite some stories! We should consider ourselves lucky then because so far we didn't have any bad experiences while traveling. At least not so bad as to ruin our vacation. Yes we had bad weather, or have been scammed here and there (maybe lost a couple of hundred dollars), but nothing so serious as in your stories. To our credit though, we never leave anything in the car when we travel. When we are at the beach, we either take turns swimming, or carry our money and documents with us in a waterproof bag. Sorry Janice, didn't want to make you feel bad (lol).

Janice and George

Sunday 4th of June 2017

Smart not to leave stuff in the car :-). Our suitcases and valuables were in the car trunk in Portugal, but the car had rental plates, so it would have been an easily identifiable mark. We're wiser now (at least we hope so!).


Thursday 1st of June 2017

Haha. Great read. Unless it happens to you.

Janice and George

Thursday 1st of June 2017

Totally agree!