What’s bugging you? Part two

August 9 2009 by Ellen Roseman

I wish I heard more compliments about the way large companies treated their customers. But the rants outnumber the raves a hundredfold.

There’s a reason why people tell me about their bad experiences (you can check my earlier post as well). They learn valuable lessons when things go wrong and they want to pass on the information to others, so they can be forewarned and forearmed.

So, here are recent horror stories from readers about a travel insurance claim denied, a badly designed cellphone and an airline flight missed with no compensation. Feel free to add your own tales of woe.


  1. KP

    Aug 9 2009

    On Feb. 2 of this year, my sister and her husband, as well as my husband and I, book a trip to visit my parents in Florida. The trip was booked through itravel2000 and we bought the trip cancellation insurance. We were to leave the first week of March.

    On Feb. 22, my sister was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer. The cancer is incurable and the prognosis is very poor. Obviously, we cancelled our trip as my sister began almost immediate chemotherapy treatments.

    The insurance company, Manulife Insurance, refuses to reimburse us the amount paid for our flight as they say my sister’s “condition” was not stable at the time the trip was booked.

    Neither my sister nor her physician had any idea she had cancer until Feb. 22. Of course, there were some symptoms; however, we never thought for a moment she had cancer and the diagnosis came as a complete shock.

    My sister has had cysts for years, so there was no reason to believe the lump she found was anything but another cyst. She also found a lump in her neck around the same time. She went to the doctor about that lump because my parents had been visiting earlier that year and my father had shingles.

    Manulife is relying on another clause in the insurance policy, namely, that she was undergoing diagnostic testing for her symptoms. The testing they’re referring to is a mammogram!

    She had the mammogram on Feb. 9 and it showed that she simply had a cyst. It wasn’t until other symptoms arose that she was finally diagnosed on Feb. 22.

    The fact that my sister’s doctor recommended a diagnostic procedure (a mammogram) certainly does not establish a known medical condition.

    In fact, it is very frightening to think that every woman who has undergone a mammogram in recent months could actually be denied reimbursement for travel insurance if they are later diagnosed with breast cancer, as the insurance company claims they were being “treated” or “undergoing diagnostic testing.”

    My sister may have a year to live if she is very lucky, and I find it outrageous that any of that time should be spent crying and stressing about financial issues due to some ridiculous clause that shouldn’t even apply to her situation.

    I have hired a lawyer and he tried to convince the insurance company to change their mind, but was unsuccessful. So he issued a claim against them,.

    I understand that the policy indicates that a condition has to be stable. My issue is that if you don’t know you have a condition and even if your doctor doesn’t know you have a condition, how would you know you shouldn’t travel?

    I believe the way they are enforcing this clause effectively prohibits anyone who has seen a doctor or, more importantly, had a mammogram in the three months prior to travelling, from benefiting from the insurance in the event some condition is later diagnosed as a result of that appointment.

    Basically, if I have a mammogram today, I shouldn’t plan to travel for the next three months in case something comes up as a result of that mammogram, and then the same thing the following year, and so on. That is ludicrous.

    I am counting on my lawyer to assist me with respect to claiming reimbursement for the trip; however, I feel the public has a right to know about this “loophole” that, as I said, basically prohibits anyone who has so much as seen a doctor from making a claim should they become ill and unable to travel.

    I think Manulife is taking things to the extreme in enforcing the clause in such a way as to prohibit virtually everyone, and I think the public should know about it.

    I believe if people knew about this clause, they would be far less likely to purchase the travel insurance because it’s useless.

  2. Tim

    Aug 9 2009

    I have been with Virgin Mobile for a long time, pretty much since they started. It was time to upgrade my now dinosaur phone and decided on the Samsung r-610, a camera phone that you have to slide the screen up in order to use.

    Two weeks after I purchased it, the screen went blank, with the exception of a strange looking thumb print, so I took the phone back to get an exchange. The receipt said I had 30 days if the product became defective for a refund or exchange.

    When I took the phone back, I was told that they could not exchange it because I had damaged the phone by sliding open the screen with my thumb. I wasn’t supposed to do that.

    My issue is that I was never told not to slide it open with my thumb, and that a warning was not printed anywhere in the manual. I didn’t understand how it could be my fault if it does not say anywhere not to do that.

    If you see the phone, you’ll notice quickly that using your thumb is the easiest, most efficient way to raise the screen.

    I got quite upset after speaking with the retail manager, then asked to speak to someone at head office on the phone. That person also told me that it was my fault. When I asked where in the manual it says not to open the phone with your thumb, they could not tell me.

    I then threatened to cancel my account thinking that would encourage them to fix the situation, but they simply called my bluff and said “ok”.

    When I got home 15 minutes later, I called them again and was once again given the cold shoulder and told it was my fault.

    I wonder how many people this happens to, resulting in multiple phones being purchased, then thrown in our landfills. I assume most of their clients are younger, resulting in very little resistance to their claims.

    If Virgin was able to say to me “Sir, on page 23 of the manual, in very small print, it tells you not to open the phone with anything but the little bump” (that I didn’t even see until it was pointed out when I went back), then I would have still been upset, but would have felt I had no case. Because there is no warning anywhere telling people not to do what seems like the natural thing, then I believe they should be responsible.

    In the emails I have received from them, the most recent includes them admitting there is no warning not to raise the screen with your thumb.

    They say I should be “gentle” with the mobile. If the screen being lifted to make it work is not gentle, I’d like to hear what their definition is.

  3. AP

    Aug 9 2009

    I travel fairly often. Early in April, I booked a flight from Halifax, stopping in Toronto and continuing to Edmonton.

    When I was taking the flight in Toronto, I did the check up on my blackberry as I always do and proceeded directly to the gate assigned (145). At that time, there was lot of people boarding a flight to another destination and I waited for my flight to be called.

    My flight had not been called yet and I thought that it was probably delayed. But when I asked a lady, she said the gate had been changed and forwarded me to gate 133.

    Once I arrived there, I noted a line boarding another plane and had to wait to speak to the attendant who told me that my gate was 124. The lady kindly called a cart that brought me to gate 124, where the flight was still boarding.

    But they said they were closing the plane door because it was too late. I was forwarded to the Air Canada customer service counter, where I was told that it was my fault.

    They made me pay again in order to take the next flight to Edmonton.

    Here’s Air Canada’s response:

    Your boarding pass was issued over 24 hours prior to the
    departure of the flight. In the daily operation of the airline things do change.

    We are governed by the Airport Authority as to what gates will be used. There can be changes as late as 30 minutes prior to the flight.

    It is the responsibility of the passenger to verify with the Flight Arrival and Departure Monitor boards what gate their flight is departing from.

    You were paged numerous times through the Airport PA system. That system operates in every area of the airport.

    We can assure you that your concerns have been reviewed appropriately. While we understand that you are
    disappointed, we must remain fair and consistent with our handling of similar requests for all customers.

    We are, therefore, unable to comply with your request and sincerely hope you will understand our position. We
    appreciate this opportunity to review your concerns.

    Here’s my counter-response:

    When you say that “Your boarding pass was issued over 24 hours prior to the departure of the flight”, that simply shows that you have not reviewed this case as appropriately as required.

    Furthermore it shows poor knowledge of your own procedures because the online check-in can only be done during the 24 hours prior to the flight, as indicated on the
    email notification.

    My boarding pass was issued a mere 4 hours before the boarding time.

    You mentioned that I was paged numerous times, but failed to say exactly how many times I was paged. Even if I was
    paged, it would be very difficult to understand why a person who has average hearing would not recognize that his
    name was being called, if in fact it was called on all the areas of the airport.

    Furthermore I fly fairly often, normally several times a year, and have never lost a flight before.

    I would like to add that I arrived to the changed gate prior to the closing of the plane door and prior to the departure of the plane, but I was harshly treated by your employees. They concentrated on reprimanding me for being late, rather than understanding why I was late and allowing me on the plane. They simply refused to allow me in, indicating that the boarding had concluded.

    I do not feel that this matter was fairly handled by you and I would respectfully you transfer this case to a supervisor to be re-analyzed.

  4. we the people

    Aug 10 2009

    Bravo KP for hiring a lawyer! I hope you get every penny you deserve + punitive damages.

    In the states and for large companies here in Canada, having lawyers file a claim on your behalf is becoming the norm. Gone are the days where insurance companies do right and own up to what was insured for. Contrary to their lobbiest claims of “cut throat, razor thin margins…” we all know it’s far cheaper for them to deny all claims, and then hire a lawyer to battle it out in court. The general public is naturally trusting for generations, but will that remain so?

    Health insurance companies has set the tone for this kind of scummy business practice. All different flavors of it has cascaded to the rest of the business industry.

    The old adage of ” you get what you pay for” has now become a useless relic affecting profitability.

    Ellen, sadly, it looks like things aren’t going to change any time soon. Will individual banks and insurance companies get their own thread?

  5. Lior

    Aug 11 2009

    KP: I’m very sorry to hear about your sister, I will say a prayer for her. And good luck to you and your family. Don’t give up! I hope you take Manulife to the cleaners. Bunch of idiots!

  6. Art Chamberlan

    Aug 11 2009

    I want to warn people about dealing with Hertz Canada.
    I booked a car months ago for four days during a trip to Halifax.
    But for Hertz it seems a confirmed reservation is not really a confirmed reservation.
    I arrived at the Hertz counter at the Marriott Harbourfront on the appointed day at 11 a.m. and was told, “Oh, your reservation said you wanted a car at 9 a.m. You weren’t here, so we gave it to someone else. And we won’t have a car for you for at least three days.”
    There is nothing in the fine print, or the large print, that says the reservation is only good for a few minutes.
    No suggestion that you need to arrive within five minutes, half an hour, an hour or whenever.
    I’ve since heard of others who have had similar problems with Hertz.
    No apology, no offer to help find alternative transportation, no more business from me.

  7. MH

    Aug 12 2009

    Last year while using an Oral B electric toothbrush, the reciprocating brush head severely pinched my tongue causing it to bleed. Upon examination, I noticed a looseness in the lower brush with a large gap between it and the housing. I believe this caused my injury.

    I contacted Procter & Gamble, partially filled out an unnecessarily intrusive questionnaire (irrelevant questioning of my medical history) and sent the brush to their Medical Affairs Division for evaluation. They replied only after repeated calls and emails (again intrusive … email is rejected unless age field is filled out). They concluded that “no manufacturing defect was present”. When asked how this injury could occur if the product was not defective and why this brush exhibited a large gap whereas a new brush did not, they could not give an adequate answer, other than to imply that I had used the brush beyond its useful life. As I wished to escalate the issue and they refused to provide an appropriate contact, I wrote to the president of P&G Canada indicating that I did not consider the matter resolved.

    Approximately 5 months later I received a reply from P&G legal counsel denying all liability for their product and blamed the injury on excessive use, despite the fact that the wear indicator bristles were well within the limit. A $250 “goodwill gesture” was offered, then unilaterally withdrawn after I responded to their allegations of excessive use and offered to send a picture proving that the wear indicators were within limit. I was then told that “…having used the brush and brush head for several months without incident, it is clear that there is no defect or negligence on the part of P&G.”. By this same twisted logic, if you buy a brand new car, drive it for a few months and then one day the fuel tank suddenly explodes without warning, the car manufacturer is not to blame.

    I find it reprehensible that instead of thoroughly investigating the incident and undertaking measures to ensure that no one is injured in the future, P&G washes its hands of the matter and blames the consumer for its defective product.

  8. CanadianInvestor

    Aug 13 2009

    Why bother with travel insurance at all, ever? Apart from the inevitable hassles trying to claim, money spent on vacations is bound to disappear forever, it’s money you can afford to lose by definition. Shouldn’t insurance be only for things that cause real permanent financial harm?

  9. brian

    Aug 17 2009

    Travellers and “non-static” (Manulife questions (see below)

    Stability is key to granting coverage for ill and elderly travellers
    Kathleen O’Hagan | August 17, 2009

    There seems to be a misconception that insurers are hesitant to provide travel insurance for the ill or the elderly.

    One of the most important elements in determining whether or not a client is eligible for travel insurance is stability requirements, says Chad Hofmann, director of Business Development, Western Region, at TuGo.com.

    Most providers require a client’s pre-existing medical condition to have remained stable, within a specified time frame, prior to departure.

    According to the TuGo policy, a client is considered stable if, within a 90-day period prior to the trip:

    a) the medical condition is not worsening; and
    b) the usage and/or dosage of the client’s medication has not been altered, nor has new medication been prescribed or advised by a physician.

    Stability requirements vary based on the age of the applicant and the length of the trip [he/she] will be taking, Hofmann explains.

    Travel Insurance and The Snowbird Market

    Healthy travellers who fall within the 60- to 89-year age bracket will be eligible for coverage after filling in a medical health questionnaire (required by most travel insurance providers).

    For the snowbird market, travel insurance policies will not differ, with modifications occurring only for pre-existing conditions. For those over 90 with a pre-existing condition, however, stability periods are stricter and premiums are higher.

    Jeff Pudwell, general manager and co-owner of 21st Century Travel, comments that older travellers with pre-existing heart or lung conditions will be deemed ineligible.

    Coverage for Clients with Pre-Existing Medical Conditions

    At 21st Century Travel, clients are given a matrix of questions, whereby clients with illnesses must answer questions that are dependent on the answer to preceding questions.

    Pudwell explains further: A yes response to one question might lead to two more questions, [and] the results [of] this matrix of questions are run through a scoring system that can apply [a] plus or minus rating … to a base rate. This non-static questionnaire, a system developed by their underwriter at Manulife Financial, can place clients with pre-existing, yet stabilized, conditions in a category considered better risk than the average population.

    For those whose condition may not meet stability requirements, a special rate for disclosed conditions will be produced. Hofmann notes that even clients with terminal illnesses may be granted coverage, depending on stability, product, and provider.

    Providers must feel confident that they are granting coverage to individuals, such as snowbirds or travellers with medical conditions, who demonstrate a stable condition for a specified time frame prior to their travels. If such clients meet these requirements, they will likely be granted the appropriate coverage.

  10. insurance rip offs

    Aug 19 2009

    Brian we all know coverage isn’t the problem with those insurance types…getting insurance to honor legitimate claims is the problem – even for healthy seniors.

    Their policies are full of bunk as they’re all designed to negate responsibility and pay nothing out. Then what did we expect when there’s floors and floors of insurance people dreaming up ways to rip people off, when we’re at our most vulnerable and in our most desperate need!?

    Is it any wonder why more of the general population has had to hire lawyers to pursue those claims? Michael Moore’s ‘Sicko’ documentary has all kinds of disturbing examples of insurance shenanigans. If someone googles hard enough they’ll find more examples, I’m sure.

    Fortunately there is some light at the end of the tunnel. A grassroots seniors movement has emerged where hopefully, it will be illegal to deny someone coverage based on pre-existing medical conditions. The next step after that is to fine those insurance companies through a public process for denying legitimate claims. Insurance is the number one scam ripping off seniors.

    How do I know all this? I had to file a claim when I fell and broke my hip while on vacation. After a battery of tests I was denied coverage due to a silly pre-existing condition – my age. Unfortunately for the insurer, I’m a retired founder of a personal injury boutique, and yes I got my old staff involved, after I couldn’t get it resolved going through their process. I think we all know the outcome of it as we settled out of court for a generous, yet deserving amount – with a healthy donation to the local seniors home.

  11. jamie

    Aug 20 2009

    The price scanning code is bugging me again

    This week, I’ve personally informed seven different staff of a price scanning error at a Metro grocery store. The price is still wrong. None of the cashiers involved have followed (and may not even have heard of) the price scanning code, probably partly due to the store not having the required signage. I’ve eventually gotten it honoured while people in line behind me waited.

    I’ll be leaving soon to get another item free today, and am debating whether to rant at the manager over what is happening or keep quiet so I can keep getting another free item day after day.

    All these years with the price scanning code and there are still major stores with no intention to follow any aspect of it, or correct the wrong prices when informed.