The travel advisor: How a trip to Tuscany ended up before a local judge

While Americans love to litigate, Israelis too have begun flooding the courts with many claims.

judge 88 (photo credit: )
judge 88
(photo credit: )
Many Israelis love to emulate Americans. Be it fast food or fast cars, we for some reason admire much of the facets that make up American culture. While Americans love to litigate, Israelis too have begun flooding the courts with many claims. Recently I was invited to give testimony at the Small Claims Court in Ashkelon. Those of you whom have not yet experienced the cast of characters that populate the Israeli Court scene, I heartily recommend you dropping into a court at any big or small city. The case was called for 5:30 p.m. and I endeavored to arrive a good thirty minutes in advance. In retrospect, I could have meandered through the town as four cases were listed every half hour. Choosing to be educated I elected to enter the august chambers of the court to observe other cases. The judge can only be described as ornery. Late 60's with a shock of white hair draped over his forehead he glared as I entered the courtroom. This was his nicest pose. Watching him rip into witnesses, mocking most testimony and ruling quite sternly I passed the time feeling a new reality show was being presented for me. Finally ninety minutes later the case I was involved with came before his docket. The facts were fairly simple. Asi Uriel, saw an advertisement in the paper by Flying Carpet. It offered a round trip flight to Tuscany, a holiday flat and a rental car, all for the seemingly inexpensive price of $750 per person. Deciding to take his wife, his brother and his spouse, Mr. Uriel reviewed the facts and decided to contact his travel agent to see if she could match or better the offer. Eager to comply she followed up with Flying Carpet and recommended that they upgrade to a larger car that would hold their luggage and make it more comfortable to enjoy the Italian countryside. Both sides were satisfied, payment was remitted and Flying Carpet sent to the agent all the relevant material. Ay, there's the rub of the lawsuit. To paraphrase that Prince of Denmark the sleeping arrangements were not clarified. As Hamlet himself bemoaned, the offer from Flying Carpet clearly stated that the holiday flat was suitable for up to four adults each with separate sleeping areas. However neither the client nor the travel consultant chose to explore what they meant. Three days before departure, the client, to verify that each couple would have his own bedroom, called up the holiday flat to discover that the second 'bedroom' was simply a pull out bed in the living room. Realizing his chances of sweet dreams and privacy were going to be challenged he contacted the travel consultant immediately to resolve the issue. Unfortunately Flying Carpet stood behind its advertisement which never detailed the specifics of the flat's layout. The client had three options, one to either reserve a second flat, two to cancel, or three to make the most of the situation. Choosing the later, he embarked upon his trip. The charter flight was uneventful, the holiday flat in a picturesque region of Tuscany adequately furnished and the larger rental car was waiting for him when he arrived. So why was I now in Ashkelon rendering expert testimony? Mr. Uriel felt he deserved compensation for, as he put it in his lawsuit, "a complete lack of privacy at night with his wife." Moreover in a gesture to placate their discomfort, Flying Carpet had requested an upgrade on his car. Rather than refuse the larger car, he chose to add the additional costs of gasoline to his lawsuit. In fact he requested $4000 for his pain and suffering, or $1000 per traveler. To be fair, he did approach the travel agency first who turned to Flying Carpet to ward off a lawsuit. Flying Carpet felt its position was quite strong and offered the two couples a free breakfast at an Israeli hotel. Not an overnight, mind you, a breakfast. The Travel Agency realizing that they should have checked out the package in more detail offered the couples $400. The client felt insulted and that the emotional damage incurred demanded far more compensation. The judge was not amused. Screaming at Flying Carpet for unclear advertising, he raked their representative over the coals for trying to gloss over the details. He also lay bare the complainants argument on the rental car and informed him that he was an idiot. Moreover he pointed out that the client had come to the travel agency with the offer and was simply shopping around for a discount. When I approached the dais, with all the humility that I possessed, the Judge asked me one question. Should the Travel Agent have checked out the particulars of the offer? My response was just as curt. Of course. No matter what a client brings to a travel agency, by law the travel consultant is acting as an AGENT between the client and the supplier. No matter that Flying Carpet didn't specify what they meant by a Holiday flat, full and final responsibility lies solely within the Travel Agent who actually made the reservation. I pointed out that their offer of $200 seemed both just and fair and quickly took my seat. In his summation the Judge repeated his harsh comments toward Mr. Uriel and Flying Carpet but accepted that final blame and thus legal responsibility must be borne by the Travel Agency. And what of their $4000 claim? He awarded them the same $200 per couple that they were offered six months earlier! Mark Feldman is the CEO of Ziontours, Jerusalem. For questions and comments email him at [email protected]