A North MSP called a delay over Northern Isles’ ferry bookings for 2019 “unacceptable”, after customers told him they could book to go to the island over the festive period but were unable to come home.
Late yesterday afternoon, Northlink Ferries said it had reviewed its procedures and customers would be able to book January dates from Monday.
One man taking up a school teacher’s job in Shetland was unable to guarantee he would be there in time for his starting date, because he couldn’t book a ferry and he had raised the matter with Highlands and Islands MSP Jamie Halcro Johnston.
>> Keep up to date with the latest news with The P&J newsletter
Mr Halcro Johnston said: “It is utterly unacceptable that, so close to the new year, passengers still could not book travel to and from Orkney and Shetland for 2019.
“It is obvious that island residents, tourists and local businesses need to be able to plan journeys a reasonable time in advance, and to be assured that services will be operating.
At the moment, visitors can book to come to the islands for Christmas and Hogmanay, but can’t book their return journey. And residents can’t get home via Northlink if they’ve been away.
“The continued delays and lack of attention to our ferry services risk damaging our local economy and causing considerable inconvenience for people who have to make essential travel arrangements.”
James Leask, an Orcadian student living in Edinburgh said: “Until Monday, I could go to see my family at Christmas, but I couldn’t get back to Edinburgh after New Year.
“We are not just another service, we are a lifeline service and we are important.”
While Shetland resident Mhari Brooks, from Lerwick, said: “I wanted to go and see my family in Shropshire for Christmas and New Year taking lots of goodies from the island with me in car, and on a ferry, but I couldn’t organise a time to get home and back to work.
“I like many other people say bring CalMac to the northern ferries – at least they seem to communicate with their customers.”
Stuart Garrett, Serco’s managing director of NorthLink Ferries, said: “From Monday, customers will be able to make 2019 bookings through the NorthLink Ferries website, customer contact centre, or the smartphone and tablet app which also allows passengers to view timetables, make bookings and, add cabins, vehicle details, meals and lounge access to bookings.”