Back at the end of June, I journeyed up from London to Newcastle (upon Tyne) on the train. It was the first of this summer's English floods (fashionably following the Northern Ireland flooding the previous week). We zoomed past fields with the green tops of trees visible, but the trunks hidden below the high flood water.
The next day, when I tried to return south, all trains had been cancelled and I ended up flying down to Heathrow to get back to my hotel and the next morning's meetings.
But could I get a refund for the return leg of by open return ticket back from GNER?
After queueing for 40 minutes, it turned out that the GNER Customer Centre in Kings Cross station couldn't offer partial refunds, so I'd have to fill out the compensation form and send it in.
So that was the end of June. I went on holiday for a few weeks, and came back to no cheque, and no acknowledgement from GNER. Indeed when I phoned up about it during August, I was told that they had a huge backlog and it could take several more weeks. When I asked if they could confirm whether they'd even received by claim, they searched for my postcode and said that there was no record! Could I fill out another form, and join the back of the queue?
I'd hardly put the phone down, when it rang, and someone senior (who I suspect had been listening into the call) reassured me that they'd found my postcode after all, and would make sure it was processed asap.
A week or so later, I opened the GNER-stamped letter expecting to see a cheque for £113 (that's what a single from Newcastle to London costs - or half an open return) ... instead, out fell £50 of vouchers that could be used on any UK mainline railway company. Handy for someone living in Belfast.
Another phone call, asked to write a letter - with the instruction to mark it PRIVATE & CONFIDENTIAL so that it would bypass the six week queue, in which I returned the vouchers and explained that an open return deserved the full cash refund of the unused leg ... and I heard nothing. Another call to enquire and a promise to sort it out that afternoon.
A GNER envelope arrived through the letterbox ... this time with an apology for messing me about, and a promise that if I rang the booking office within the next six months and quoted a reference number I could get two free first class tickets. Où est le chèque? Arghh.
A further call, and an "Oooooh!" when I explained that the offer was kind, but kindof missed the point of what I'd been chasing (and had specifically been asking for a £113 refund from originally submitting the compensation form). A further promise of a cheque within a week ... timescales driven by the cash office only printing cheques once a week.
And so, nearly three months to the day since the date of the non-travel and posted off the form, I got my money back. Three months in which I've been unable to submit an expenses claim to an external body to get my money back and have been out the £226 train fare and the £140 flight. Around three hours spent on hold on the phone trying to get through to the customer service office. And three letters sent, when the original form should have sufficed.
But boy was I glad to get it resolved. And boy was I glad when yesterday's Midland Mainline train from Nottingham to London departed on time, and arrived on time. Wouldn't want to go through that again. Rant over.