Students were reduced to tears after their coach driver allegedly veered between lanes and drove along with the door open while on his phone.
The "journey from hell" had 60 fifth-year Bristol veterinary students endure a torrid ride from Gatwick Airport to Somerset courtesy of Sparrow Travel.
The outward bound trip from their university town to Gatwick and then on to Crete – in celebration of the end of their exams – went smoothly for those in the main 52-seater coach, but not so well for the accompanying minibus.
The minibus driver was on his phone and made the passengers feel "unsafe", they claimed.
On the return leg on June 13 the drivers of the coach and the minibus switched, leading to a sweaty-palmed ride home for those in the bigger vehicle.
Francesca Corbett, one of the trip's organisers, told Somerset Live how the fraught journey began even before they had left the airport.
"It was the journey from hell – I am never using them (Sparrow Travel) again," she said.
"We booked to be picked up from the airport at 1.30am but we did not leave until 45 minutes later.
"We were delayed because the bus driver did not have a permit to park at the airport.
"My friend ended up paying £30 for a permit so that we could finally leave. Sparrow should have sorted that but they did not."
Things really started to go down hill when they got on the road.
"When we finally got going, the driver was frequently on his phone as he did not have any idea where he was going," Francesca continue.
"A lot of people were feeling worried so I went and sat right by him to tell him that I would direct him with the phone because it was not safe.
"I saw him struggling to stay in the lanes and he was veering across the road as well.
"He nearly hit a sign, he got lost and we nearly hit into a van.
"The coach door was partly open on the M4 for a good five miles too."
Francesca added: "Eventually I got him to give me his phone but by that time the front screen was misting up badly.
"He was using his hat to clear the misty screen. He also opened the window which left lots of people very cold.
"When I asked about it he reacted quite aggressively and said the heater was not working.
"But it later turned out that he didn't know how to turn it on."
The miserable journey proved too much for some students, who got off the coach when it pulled in at Reading Services.
Many of them burst into tears before taxis arrived to ferry them home.
"He said he was too tired so he wanted to pull over at Reading services to get 30 minutes of sleep," said Francesca.
"People were crying and were very scared. There were a lot of tears.
"The students who ended up getting taxis refused to go back on.
"I think the taxis were £180 or so.
"They waited for nearly an hour but they chose to do that and go all that way (nearly 100 miles), rather than get back on the coach.
"Another person almost had the luggage hold door hit them as they removed their suitcase as well.
"The minibus did not have any problems and we did not get back home until several hours after them."
Despite having supposed to have left the airport at 1.30am, the coach didn't arrive back in Bristol until 8.30am.
According to Google Maps the journey should take two and a half hours.
"I felt I let the team down. It was definitely the worst journey I had ever been on," Francesca said.
"We have tried to complain to them (Sparrow Travel) since but they have just ignored us.
"Someone in our group called the police on 101 on the way back from Reading.
"They said they would send a car out to look for the coach to check the driver had a licence.
"I've tried getting in touch with the person who rang but he has not got back to us.
"I think the people who paid for taxis should be compensated and my friend who paid £30 for the coach permit should too.
"This put a downer on the holiday. The holiday itself went pretty smoothly. Everyone had a good time but at the final hurdle it was so unsafe."
A spokesperson for Sparrow Travel said the driver was self-employed and taken on with work references from previous companies.
They said the door could could not have been open while the coach was driving due to a "safety device" and that airport parking is always the customer's responsibility.
"If the driver was that bad then I can’t understand why they wouldn’t request a different driver for the return journey," they said.
"Also when the driver takes the vehicle out on the road we can’t control what he is doing.
"Using a mobile phone is against the law. We can’t control this, only act on it after the event and we did act on this and sacked the driver.
"How can we be publicly blamed when all drivers are responsible for their own actions as we can’t watch and control them when they go out on the road?"
Source: Read Full Article