Woman says Marine Atlantic’s lack of service is ‘unbelievable’

Josh Pennell
Send to a friend

Send this article to a friend.

Traveller bringing mother’s remains home to Ontario could not get anyone on the phone

The MV Blue Puttees ran aground last week, and due to related travel delays, customers have had a hard time getting through to the company as the lines have been busy. — TC Media file photo

A woman trying to get her mother’s remains back to Ontario for burial said she experienced deplorable customer service from Marine Atlantic over the weekend until she drove down to Port aux Basques in person.

Julia Brignall-Cook, originally from Ontario, is a nurse in Corner Brook. Her mother died a week ago Saturday and Cook had her cremated. She said she booked a funeral service and burial for Aug. 15 in Scarborough, Ont., where her mother was originally from.

When she started to call Marine Atlantic on Friday to make reservations to cross, she said, she couldn’t so much as get anybody on the phone.

“It’s kind of unbelievable,” she said. “I just feel that’s the worst I’ve ever seen in customer service.”

Brignall-Cook said when she called the reservation line it was busy all the time and a recording on the customer service line just said the mailbox was full. When she tried to email, it wouldn’t deliver due to the company’s mailbox being full.

Last week one of Marine Atlantic’s ferries, the MV Blue Puttees, ran aground in Port aux Basques sending it out of service for several weeks.

Brignall-Cook said she travels by ferry every other year and in 2010 experienced something similar trying to get back to the island. She managed to get on the ferry by driving to the terminal and speaking to somebody in person.

She decided to do the same thing this time.

“We’re packing up our camper and were going down there and were going to camp on the dock until I can get on,” she said Saturday.

“Tomorrow is my husband’s birthday and for his birthday I’m going to pack him up and we’re going to drive down to Port aux Basques.”

“I’ll just stand there until they talk to me,” Brignall-Cook said.

When Brignall-Cook got to the dock on Sunday, she said, she received remarkably different service than what she experienced on the phone.

“They could not have been kinder to me ... but I never did get anyone on the phone,” she said.

Marine Atlantic immediately booked her for the Sunday night crossing, what they said was the only crossing not fully booked for weeks.

Brignall-Cook wondered what would have happened if she hadn’t decided to just show up.

“I think they should just have more people on the phones,” she said.



Organizations: Marine Atlantic, MV Blue Puttees

Geographic location: Ontario, Port aux Basques, Corner Brook Scarborough

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5

Thanks for voting!

Top of page



Recent comments

  • Gail
    August 11, 2013 - 09:02

    We were scheduled to return via Argentia on Aug. 10, but were rerouted to PAB. We received several messages from Marine Atlantic informing us of the changes. Obviously they had a way to reach us other than our home phone which also had messages when we returned home. Other than a bit of frustration for having to drive across the province I thought they handled the situation very well. We were able to reach them by phone after a number of attempts, yes their phone lines were busy, but under the circumstances that was to be expected. They had an accident with the Blue Puttees and had to change reservations for several hundred people and their vehicles. I think they did a pretty good job. We were even able to change the reservation they gave us for Friday at noon to Friday at 1:30am ( we phoned them at about 11:00am on Thursday), and we were able to get a cabin, so the Highlanders wasn't full for that crossing. People need to accept that accidents happen, things don't always go the way you plan them, and take some responsibility for your problems. And no, I don't work for Marine Atlantic, and none of my friends or family do either.

  • Paul
    August 06, 2013 - 21:18

    This lady called on FRIDAY, in the middle of summer, looking for a booking, and this is news?? I travelled from NS to PAB on Friday, was originally supposed to go to Argentia, on a booking I made 5 MONTHS AGO. People have to take responsibility for their own shortsightedness..and this woman definitely needs glasses.

  • Nl guy
    August 06, 2013 - 07:04

    it's time for Nl government to step in , the people in charge don't use ferries people , met a lady on board one time travelling from agentia to north Sydney , the lady had to small kids and by her appearance she never had much, well as an employee I was there to help , so when asked during our trip when would be arriving in ns I told the lady the eta , she said that was two hours later than expected, well she started to cry , she was nervous of the bus that she needed to continue her to Ontario, we spoke and I made her feel better, I had to lie! We new before leaving we would not be ontime. Hotel, extra meals and a day plus behind was what this lady had coming, spoke to my supervisor , they said " do you know this woman?" I said "no" well "" then who cares" well I was told to go back to work and mind my own business.when we finally arrived in ns we were 3 hrs late , when ready to dock the stevedores took there break , left the vessel tied up till they were ready! Sad but true , Newfoundlanders need to be in control of their ferry

  • Erax
    August 05, 2013 - 22:48

    Marine Atlantic's management all live in St. John's - perhaps this will open your mind to what's going on. Here's a video link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zyjngILeGn4&feature=share&list=UUocJX30z1Dz-DiBf7WB3LSA

  • jesse james
    August 05, 2013 - 18:02

    well I can understand they done the same thing to a lady and her 3 small children in Sydney terminal and a older lady they expected them to sit out front of the building till at least Monday before anyone was going to get on what would change their minds on their service is if everyone stopped using their services for a few weeks when it starts effecting the rest of newfoundland's companies and living hear they might do something but its doubtful their part of government they would rather pocket the tax payers money and act like nothings going on see no evil hear no evil that's government for you

  • Rebecca
    August 05, 2013 - 17:13

    This lady had an important reason to cross but went to make a last minute reservation? If she would have called last week she would have been fine. You have to take the responsibility on to make reservations especially a return. It's peak tourist season! Delays happen its a fact of life there's only so much staff at the company. It's also strange how she said her customer service on the dock was great in comparison with phone service. However also states she never got ahold of anyone. Marine Atlantic did accommodate you once they were aware if the situation. Stop bashing and get over it. Ever try calling pogie?

    • Ronan
      August 07, 2013 - 17:36

      First of all, your comment is pretty idiotic. Her mother passes away and i'm pretty sure her mom didn't give anyone 1 week notice before passing away. Second, to expect someone to DRIVE to the port (in our case that's 14+ hours of driving) to HOPE to get a ticket, is simply RIDICULOUS, UNPROFESSIONAL and asking to get SUED for IMPROPER and IMMORAL business practices. In our case, we are trying to change a ticket, been calling for 5 days, 20-30 times a day, 2-3 e-mails a day. Still hasn't happen. Out of my pocket i had to purchase ANOTHER ticket with the proper time (since everything is screwed up there) and then i will drive there, TRY to get reimbursed (so i can afford food the week after) and then HOPE to catch the boat on time. I have lived all around the world (Canada, US, England, France, Italy, Germany, China and Japan, oh and South Korea but that was only 1 month), this is probably the worst service ever. What ever happen, where ever i was, i could always call a company/service (limited to business hours usually). Not for this Northern Canadian company apparently!!!

  • Doug Carter
    August 05, 2013 - 13:56

    I was original booked for the August 1 crossing from Argentia to North Sydney and to return to Argentia from North Sydney on August 21. If I cancelled both scheduled crossings at once because of the uncertainty of departure dates and times I would be offered a one-time $200 voucher per adult and $100 per child. However, If I cancelled the August 1 crossing first I would be offered $200 voucher per adult and $100 per child. Then, if I waited and Marine Atlantic determine they could not provide the Argentia service on Aug 21 I would be offered another 200 voucher per adult and $100 per child. It appears that these vouchers are offered per crossing provided you do not cancel in advance. Great honest corporation / great client service; I think not.

    • Boatbuilder
      August 05, 2013 - 23:36

      I'm workin' as fast as I can brotha! It's a big boat. Gotta get me some cheese and baguette to go with all this whine!

  • Wilf
    August 05, 2013 - 13:05

    For those that things would be different if an accident happened on the ferry services in BC, it is not true. I live in BC, on Vancouver Island and believe me we have accidents with ferries here also..Every time it happens it causes delays and inconveniences for passengers. People, it was an ACCIDENT..No company could ever afford to have extra ferries on standby in case of accidents,or have extra staff sitting around to man phones just in case an accident happens.. I am sure that Marine Atlantic is doing everything possible to keep the service going as best they can. Oh, just for the record, people here on the West coast complain as loud and hard as people on the East coast when they are inconvenienced..Sometimes when you live on an island....

  • Duffy
    August 05, 2013 - 12:47

    The telephone service is not on the Island and they could care less but with that being said "Momma" is not going anywhere, it is an unforeseen circumstance so get a life and realize that everyone there wants to cross. Just put off the service to another date as "Momma" is fine where she is until you can commerate her life and times. Complain to the Federal Government or expect Dunderdale or any MHA to say or do anything is a pipe dream from Disneyworld.

  • Donna
    August 05, 2013 - 12:29

    I have travelled to and from NL for many years and really have no complaints except for the prices that are charged but Marine Atlantic is there to make money like any other business. Food is much better in the dining room than it used to be. I now make any reservations online and have had no problems. Stormy weather and accidents do happen but that is reality.

  • willy
    August 05, 2013 - 12:09

    Hope somebody in authority from Marine Atlantic is reading all of these comments. Not what you call stellar performance on the part of Marine Atlantic. They should hire someone from one of the Scandinavian countries who know how to run an efficient ferry service and not rely on some "retired" sea captain to run that operation.

  • California Pete from NFLD
    August 05, 2013 - 11:58

    Just a reminder ! The ferry service is the Federal Goverment as it is part of the TCH. Or have you forgot.

  • Elizabeth
    August 05, 2013 - 10:47

    As of today still not heard anything regarding reservations for August 12. Three e-mails to customer relations have been sent, and also called the 1-800 numbers which do not seem to be working from some US states. There are no other numbers to call as far as can be seen from the website, other than one in Sydney, NS which does not connect properly. Accidents happen, and that is understandable but how can a publically funded company not at least take more responsibility for contacting those who are impacted by the accident? I understand that those administrators at MA must be under great "stress". I hope they also realize that many others are having stressful "holidays". One suggestion would be to have Aliant /or similar company set up a few extra phones on a temporary basis, hire a few more to respond to e-mails at customer service, work longer days and weekends until those at least who have reservations have been contacted. Hopefully some of this is happening?????? Unlikely, but I do hope that some courageous investigative reporter takes a thorough look at how this company responded and reveals the contingency plan that was implemented by those in administration at MA. Is there accountability for this situation which we believe to be a total failure in customer relations?

  • Kim
    August 05, 2013 - 10:23

    Accidents happens, weather happens... There are some things that you have no control of. I crossed in the spring and a sea storm cancelled four crossings. I received email alerts, text message and a phone call informing me that there might be a delay (before the actual cancellations) and a link to get more information. I received the same when the ferry was cancelled and again with my "new" reservation. Yes, I was delayed by a couple of days, but I received timely information and was able to cross as soon as it was safe and as soon as those who had reservations ahead of me were dealt with. I see lots of complaints but very few solutions. Bringing in extra staff to man the phones... what do these people do the rest of the time? Where is the physical space or equipment to do this? If you are staffed at all times for an emergency or have an "extra" ferry just on hand, then everyone would be complaining about the extra cost on their tickets. It is a business and cannot have all the surplus that is being demanded of it. Please be patient and courteous when you are dealing with Marine Atlantic staff. It is not their fault and they are doing the best they can given the situation.

    • Gerry
      August 05, 2013 - 14:16

      There is an airport at Deer Lake and several flights from NL to Pearson Airport every day.

  • Calvin
    August 05, 2013 - 10:20

    It is literally time for the federal and provincial governments to pool their resources, build a bridge and get over it, pardon the pun. The money, time and aggravation people waste on the deplorable ferry service to and from Newfoundland every year is shocking. The 20km stretch between the northern peninsula and Labrador would be a huge undertaking, sure. However, there are many places in the world where bridges have been constructed over open water to connect island portions of a country to the mainland. I would love to see some numbers outlining how long it would take the government to make their money back on the constcution investment when compared to the savings of not having to provide this joke of a ferry service.

    • Gekko
      August 05, 2013 - 12:34

      I knew it wouldn't be long! Anyway, I'm not going to spend much time debating something so ridiculous. Just don't get your hopes up buddy. You really willing to dedicate all that public money to building and maintaining a bridge as well as a new highway all the way through Labrador and rural Quebec? Just because a few tourists occasionally get delayed at the ferry? Who would actually want to use this bridge? The VAST majority of people would rather take their chances on the boat to Nova Scotia than drive all the way up the northern peninsula and through the "Big Land". Driving through Labrador, even if they had a real highway, is not for the faint of heart nor the pressed for time. I guess a bridge to the mainland is a cute idea and all, but those who support it clearly have no understanding of cost/benefit analysis.

  • Danny
    August 05, 2013 - 10:04

    It says the body was cremated... if this was a story of the woes of transporting a body for burial (as the sub-heading implies), then we'd have a story to talk about. In reality, however, this is about someone who is rightfully frustrated (along with several thousand other people), hoping for special attention even though her situation is no more urgent then everyone else's?

  • Will Cole
    August 05, 2013 - 10:00

    Absolutely ridiculous, can anyone imagine this happening in the BC or Scandinavian ferry service? How can such an obviously half-assed operation justify the exorbitant salaries it's paying itself?

  • saelcove
    August 05, 2013 - 09:44

    if it were air canada everyone would be looking for compensation

    • BucketList
      August 05, 2013 - 16:22

      You're right Saelcove, Air Canada is the airline everybody loves to hate, even if they're never been on an airplane. I'd suggest you're in that category.

  • alexander
    August 05, 2013 - 09:39

    The marine atlantic service and treatment of its customers is terrible compared to any other company providing a transportation service.This company needs competition or replacement .

  • Kristan
    August 05, 2013 - 09:19

    I have a hard time understanding why a major transportation company would not have a disaster recovery plan in place. To call and receive a busy signal teleports me back to 1980! I would hope the federal and provincial government see the inadequacies within the operations of the company and mandate a disaster recovery plan with customers safety and concern as a priority. Marine Atlantic has proven to be unprepared to handle such instances.

  • Kacey
    August 05, 2013 - 09:11


  • Dave
    August 05, 2013 - 09:08

    If She finds this level of service unbelievable then it is obvious that she is unfamiliar with Marine Atlantic

    • carogers
      August 08, 2013 - 09:00

      The reason the ferry system and its employees conduct themselves as uncaring and disrespectful to travellers is because of people are simple not called upon for their behaviour...the attitude by most NLers is "oh that's just the way it is" Putting up with substandard service seems the way of the NLer...don't actually expect anything just take what is thrown at us...'cause that's good enough for them' Well other people from other places have higher expectations and one of those higher expectations is that when a phone number is posted on advertising for a ferry service then simple logic derives an expectation that the call will be answered by someone to book your reservation. It is our own fault not enough services are available because we do nothing but accept what ever is thrown at us and excuse it all away....as that's the way it is. That is the way it has always been AND WHO'S FAULT IS THAT?

  • Gekko
    August 05, 2013 - 09:02

    MA seems to be doing the best they can considering the situation. Accidents happen, and when they happen service will be affected. And having to deal with the hassles of getting to the mainland is a something you accept when you choose to live on an island in the middle of nowhere. Yeah, it can be inconvenient at times. I also fail to see how privatizing MA or making it an essential service would have prevented the bloody ship from crashing into the wharf. Next some fool will likely be on here demanding a bridge to Nova Scotia.

  • Dave White
    August 05, 2013 - 09:00

    There is an investigation going on about why the Blue Puttees hit the wharf in Port aux Basques. I assume there will also be an investigation on how Marine Atlantic handled the situation re: scheduling and customer service.

  • Steve
    August 05, 2013 - 08:24

    Same problems today as they did when I first cross on the ferries back in 1985. Mechanical problems, delays and hearded in like a cattle boat. So many ferry woes in Newfoundland even the coastal ones too. Aging vessels and/or staffing issues? Lack of proper maintenance? How do we rank compared to other parts of the world where people also rely on ferries for transportation?

  • Anna
    August 05, 2013 - 07:40

    Where are our MPs? I can't believe not a word has been heard, Ryan Cleary must be too tired from driving back and forth from Gander. Where is Jack Harris, we have no one to fight for us in Ottawa but this total lack of service for Newfoundlanders. I know it is summer but at least one of the seven must be working.

    • Bikkey
      August 05, 2013 - 16:33

      Ottawa doesn't give a cat's ass about Newfoundland. Cleary, Harris, Doyle, Marshall et al are too busy raking in their annual $135,000.00. Shhhhh, quiet please.

  • Chris Rose
    August 05, 2013 - 07:17

    I had a similar experience on Wednesday after the Blue Puttees had run aground. I had been driving from St. John's to get the 8 pm sailing of the Highlanders; for which I did have a booking. We heard the news and were informed that our crossing had been cancelled, but not what action to take - other than I would be contacted. We proceeded to Corner Brook where we spent 2-3 hours awaiting a call or e-mail, of which there was none. Upon hearing that the Blue Puttees had been freed from where it had run aground we decided to take our chances and proceed to Port Aux Basques. We arrived to a line of traffic and finally found out that they were going to be putting us on the Lief Erricson at 9 AM the next morning, 13 hours after my original booking and forcing me to spend 11 hours on the dock waiting. I never did receive a call or e-mail regarding a rebooking, I suspect this is because I had proceeded to Port Aux Basques and checked-in which removed me from the contact list. It still would have been nice to have known what action to take. The one time I did get through to the call centre all they told me was the crossing had been canceled and I would be contacted with further information. What a nice way to treat our tourists.

  • Mike
    August 05, 2013 - 07:03

    The customer experience is at the bottom of the list of priorities for Marine Atlantic. Always been that way.

  • Eli
    August 05, 2013 - 06:49

    Does this woman ever turn on a radio or watch TV? Everybody and his brother is talking about Marine Atlantic's Blue Puttees problem. And to call on Friday for a weekend booking in the height of the tourist season? Come on!

    • Tammy Gillis
      August 05, 2013 - 09:09

      What about the porr buggers who DO have a reservation? How the hell are they supposed to find out if/when they're sailing? This company won't pick up a hpone....every line leads to a voice mail, which they won't return, or a disconnect! I am TRYING to get info for people heading to the Rock.....NOBODY knows what to tell them....not even the provincial tourism dept in NFLD....some great service!!~!!!!!

  • jeremiah
    August 05, 2013 - 06:41

    Marine Atlantic's service sucks because it is heavily unionized. It should be made an essential service and get rid of the union altogether.

  • Jack
    August 05, 2013 - 06:19

    The only way Marine Atlantic's abusive attitude towards Newfoundland and Labradorians as well as users of this ferry stop their foolish attitude are having the Newfoundland and Labrador Government take it over, force the Harper Government to invest more money on Marine Atlantic, implement a third route such as North Sydney to Corner Brook, or in extreme steps, privatize the ferry service on condition its provided year round for the North Sydney to Channel Port Aux Basques route.

  • Anon
    August 05, 2013 - 06:09

    I agree. I have tried & did once, only to be told there is nothing they can do. The lack of assistance is unacceptable. The ferry is supposed to be part of our highway system. Iis bad enough to have to pay the rates Marine Atlantic charges, but to not be able to make a booking until September 1 & nobody able to provide any information is crazy.

  • Newfoundlander
    August 05, 2013 - 05:58

    It's very unfortunate and sad when things happen, especially at a time when people are grieving. However, I've travelled all over the world and accidents and unforeseen things happen everywhere. We don't live in a perfect world. We have to be able to adapt and plan around those events. No doubt Marine Atlantic is swamped with calls and e-mails and cannot provide immediate assistance to everyone. I'm sure if they could take back this unfortunate incident, they would. Difficult as this may be, we all need to have patience and we'll eventually get to our destinations.

  • Gus
    August 05, 2013 - 05:22

    Its amazing how little the general public knows about the transportation industry.