How often do you click ‘agree’ to terms and conditions without reading them? Do you ever wonder if you are agreeing to something you will regret later? Ever wonder if you will wake up one day without a kidney, only to be told it was in the terms and conditions of your software update?
It happened to me, I still had both kidneys but I arrived at the Vancouver airport only to be told there was ‘no record’ of my flight reservation back to London, England. I knew there had to be a record of my flight because I had booked and paid for the flight months earlier. I was holding a copy of the reservation and contract in my hands.
After frantic conversations and calls I found there was no record because Canadianaffair had canceled my flight. They didn’t refund my money, they never told me they canceled my flight. I called their customer service line, confused, three hours before the flight. I was told they canceled my flight based on a surprising condition. I had clicked ‘agree’ to an online form when I booked the flight. Canadianaffair told me I had agreed to these terms, and there was nothing they would do, and there was nothing I could do except book a new flight (and by the way they had nothing available for at least one week).
I was left fighting back tears and feeling helpless at the airport, 7500 kilometers (as the Boeing flies) away from home. Full-time student, working frantically part-time between two countries to pay the bills. All I wanted was to get on the flight I had paid for, but because of an obscure clause in Canadianaffair’s terms and conditions, I was being ignored.
So I sued them, and I won (County Court Claim #2QT36148). UK consumer protection law says even if you click ‘agree’ the terms still have to be fair. Those ‘click agree to continue’ types of contracts are not always legally binding if they disadvantage you (or me) the consumer. According to the Office of Fair Trading any “non-negotiated” contract that disadvantages the consumer is not legally binding .
You might be surprised how strong consumer protection laws in the UK are. For example, The Office of Fair Trading provides an example of unfair cancellation terms: “we reserve the right to cancel any order at any time by refunding all monies paid” is unfair because the law says a company must provide the service it agreed to provide under the original contract.
In my case, Canadianaffair canceled my flight without refunding my money or even notifying me. I had booked multiple flights and missed one of my flights by only a few minutes. Their terms and conditions state that missing a flight means they automatically cancel subsequent flights.
Each time I talked to Canadianaffair they completely ignored everything I told them about the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations 1999. They ignored any discussion of the law. I spent hours trying to explain the law. The final response from Mark Crinnion, one of Canadianaffair’s customer service representatives was: “I am sorry that you are unhappy with my response. We did advise you of our policy at the time of booking by agreeing to our booking conditions”.
The company had no interest in discussing consumer protection law. After multiple warnings and vain attempts to resolve the issue, I filed a claim at small claims court (County Court). It took me months, extensive research, many emails and minor personal expense. But, I won a court judgement for the price I paid for the flight, my (excellent) replacement British Airways flight, hotel costs, court fees and interest on the balance owed. While Canadianaffair’s customer service had no interest in helping me, the British courts were fair.
After this experience, I would strongly advise anyone who has been treated unfairly in a contract you are forced to accept to ask yourself, “Is this legal?” There are strong consumer protection laws in Britain, Europe, and many other countries. These laws are designed to protect consumers from large companies trying to take advantage of you by using unfair terms. The Office of Fair Trading has detailed easy-to-understand descriptions of the relevant laws with examples. Directgov walked me through every step of the County Court process, and I was able to do almost everything online using MoneyClaim. If I needed extra help the Citizens Advice Bureau would have given me more advice and support.
I learned about consumer protection laws the hard way. I had to fight for mine. After the experience I would urge everyone else with a valid complaint to fight for your rights using all legal avenues available to you. Unfair terms only exist because someone is profiting from them. When I fought to be compensated, it meant Canadianaffair could not profit from leaving me stranded. If enough people fight for their legal rights as consumers, it won’t be profitable to create unfair conditions in contracts. The law gives you more power than you might think.