Anger at ‘free ferry service’ as CalMac bookings have been cancelled

Passengers traveling between Oban and Craignure on the Isle of Mull were told on Saturday that “due to reduced capacity” all sailings would operate on a “turn up and go” basis.

Joe Reade, chair of the Mull and Iona Ferry Committee, said the communications on the issue “turned a crisis into drama”.

This meant that while tickets were valid on Saturday they could not be guaranteed to be on the booked trip – and some had to queue for hours to catch a ferry later than planned.

There have been complaints of canceled bookings and hours of waiting as others abandoned their efforts to travel via Oban and made a 100 mile detour to reach the island via Lochaline.

One said the detour to Lochaline took four hours, telling CalMac: “Appalling service.”

Users had already complained that services were in a state of “chaos” while Scottish Government-controlled ferry operator CalMac was bombarded with complaints about its troubled newly introduced ticketing system.

HeraldScotland: MV HEBRIDES

The user group warned that there had been “not entirely unexpected” delays in the return of their key ship, the 35-year-old MV Isle of Mull, as the MV Hebrides was taking longer than expected to dry-dock – a situation that has taken its toll Number of ships in the CalMac fleet over the last few months. The return should not take place until Sunday afternoon.

MS Lord of the Isles was brought in on Sunday morning after the chaos – but due to technical issues it has been warned some services could be delayed.

While MV Isle of Mull was expected to come back online at 3.55pm on Sunday, CalMac warned of booking issues.

CalMac informed users, “We are in the process of updating our reservation system, so some bookings may not be available. We will contact all affected bookings in due course. We would like to thank our customers for their patience while these changes are finalized.”

And the ferry operator said that until further notice, due to limited capacity, we strongly recommend foot passengers to pre-book where possible to be accommodated on their preferred ferry route.

MS Isle of Mull fell victim to a CalMac conversion of her aging fleet to service South Uist.

Its potential replacement, the 27-year-old MV Isle of Lewis, was repaired as planned.

Due to the late arrival of the MS Isle of Mull, a much smaller ship had to catch the traffic jam.

Mull’s two-ferry service operates on the MV Coruisk, which carries 40 cars and 200 passengers, which is a fifth of the number of passengers and almost half the cars.

READ MORE: Over £5.5million in public money has been awarded to advisers on the future of ferries

Also out is MV Hebridean Isles, 38, who has been struggling since Boxing Day and remains out since she was taken out of the line of fire on February 16.

But CalMac told users that due to the “turn-up-and-go” process, notices would be sent to those who couldn’t be accommodated, while all other customers would be accepted on an on-call basis.


They said the two ships that offered the service “unexpectedly” were “not big enough to carry all bookings, so we had to make the difficult decision to operate on a first-come, first-served basis.” ”

In a message to users, CalMac stated, “We know this is causing a great deal of inconvenience, but our port team is currently doing everything they can to move traffic to and from Mull, with capacity severely limited due to the current vessel layout .”

However, the ferry operator was bombarded with concerns from users about the move, which hit users on Saturday.

One customer, Joanne Dollard, said: “This is really appalling. We received an email saying our tickets were cancelled. No apologies, no mention of a refund. We have two young children and booked in February. Since our tickets are cancelled, I assume we won’t.” Can’t you join Oban for free for all? Useless.”

Another said: “Our ferry was canceled with one day’s notice, the alternative route was too far for us. We ended up having to cancel our camping trip even though we had paid for our pitch in advance. I was offered a refund for my ferry.” Cost but lost on camping cost. Disappointing.”

Patrick Law added: “Incredibly bad. Arrived 50 minutes early with an 8.30am ticket but was unable to board. Not even close. No notification of the change on a first come, first served basis.

David McMullen said: “At 7.55pm we received a message that our booking had been cancelled, no indication of ‘arrive and leave’. We had to make a four hour detour via Lochaline. Terrible service.”

Another replied: “This is completely insane.”

READ MORE: Ferguson Marine: Ferry companies try to comply with laws to stop closure

Concerns arose after CalMac told users of the Mull service Tuesday last week that “due to passenger traffic, we would not advise customers to take day trips to the island as availability on return trips is limited.”

The advice was lifted on Wednesday.

Mr Reade said customers should have been told earlier in the week there was going to be a problem – but were not told this until 9pm on Friday night. When the call center closed at 8:00 p.m., there was no way for customers to respond or contact CalMac.

“Not only was the timing appalling, the language used was really bad – nobody was sure what the service announcement actually meant. It was not clear if ALL bookings were null and void or just those that had been contacted.”


“It turned out (after some clarification) that in fact all bookings had been cancelled. But people with tickets booked were unsure whether to show up for the departure they were ticketed for or just show up at any time and wait.

“The staff on shore dealt with the situation very calmly and resiliently, but it must have been very difficult. Cars lined up all day at Craignure, and many people waited four hours or more before boarding. Many people gave up their efforts to drive via Oban and depart via Lochaline. From a communication and customer service perspective, the matter was handled very, very poorly.”

This comes after more than 30 bugs and issues were reported to CalMac related to the new electronic ticketing system, including some ships being unable to sell tickets because their internet connection was poor.

The Mull and Iona Ferry Committee reported problems with overbooking, resulting in people whose journeys had been booked in advance having their journeys cancelled.

Other reported issues included finding that some routes incorrectly stated that there were no departures at all, the system listed ports that did not exist, and repeated difficulties with users being unable to log into their accounts.

Taking to Twitter, CalMac CEO Robbie Drummond responded as the chaos unfolded.


It went to a user Moray Finch, who said: “Your dockers at Craignure and Oban deserve a medal for showing up today knowing they would face so much anger and frustration. Please ensure their bravery and loyalty are recognized and rewarded.”

He replied: “Thank you Moray. This is what we do. Commitment and endless good humor. I will forward your comments.”

But another user told Mr Drummond: “Don’t think it’s time to show up on Mull to explain to residents and your staff what you’re going to do going forward to deal with these last minute cancellations and booking changes to prevent?”

Grace Reader

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