By Christopher Elliott Travel columnist
Tribune Media Services
updated 8/9/2007 11:41:33 AM ET 2007-08-09T15:41:33
TRAVEL TROUBLESHOOTER

Q: On a recent visit to Las Vegas we purchased a round-trip shuttle bus ticket from the airport to our hotel through Gray Line. We followed all their instructions, calling to schedule our return well in advance of our departure as we had done many times before.

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But this time our shuttle bus didn’t show up. When I called them to say we were about to miss our flight, an agent told us that our bus was running behind schedule, and that we should arrange another ride to the airport. She promised to reimburse us if we mailed our receipt to Gray Line.

The cab ride from our hotel to the airport cost about $20, and when I got back home, I mailed the receipt to the company. I haven’t heard a word from Gray Line since then. I’ve even followed up with a second letter and e-mail, but both have been ignored.

The money isn’t what bothers me. I wonder if they do this often and how can they get away with it? Thanks for your help.
— Joan Cole, Andover, Minn.

A: A Gray Line shuttle should have been there when you checked out of your hotel, of course. The company’s site leaves you with the impression that a ride is never far away. “We operate shuttle transportation continuously,” it says. “You can always count on Gray Line Las Vegas to be on time — with courteous and professional drivers, we get you there with flare!”

Well, the only thing that was probably flaring was your temper after Gray Line left you ride-less and late arriving to the airport. It could have smoothed things over by mailing you a prompt refund.

Maybe the check was in the shuttle that never arrived. Oh well.

I couldn’t find any kind of contract language on the Gray Line Las Vegas Web site. Its parent company’s site, Dallas-based Coach America, wasn’t much more helpful with that information. The site was long on promotional language — promising “safe and convenient” transportation that “takes the worry out of your travel plans” — without any kind of legal agreement that defines its obligations to you, the passenger.

Sorry for being such a stickler about fine print, but it’s unclear what Gray Line is obligated to do when it confirms your reservation. Obviously, it honors a vast majority of its reservations — otherwise it wouldn’t stay in business.

But does it have to? Based on the information it offers customers online, the answer is “no.”

Now there are things that Gray Line can’t control. Shuttles sometimes break down. Traffic happens. But it can control what happens next. Why not notify customers so that they can make alternate arrangements? A representative could have easily called your cell phone when the van failed to show up. Instead, Gray Line waited for you to call.

Here’s what you should have done. Instead of waiting for the shuttle to be late, you could have called Gray Line a half-hour before your scheduled pickup, just to be sure everything was running on time. I do that now, after having missed more than a few flights because of a late bus, van or car service. It shouldn’t be necessary, but unfortunately, it is.

I contacted Coach America on your behalf. A short while later you received a letter from Ryan Emison, a general manager in Las Vegas, apologizing for the no-show and assuring you “this is not our usual way of doing business.”

Gray Line refunded your $20 and offered two free round-trip transfers on your next visit to Vegas.

Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine and the host of “What You Get For The Money: Vacations,” on the Fine Living TV Network. E-mail him at celliott@ngs. org.

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