This a bit much…..

Even for me.

Bloody hell…..

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So where’s the solar plexus….?

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Jack BremnerA couple of years back, I visited Jack Bremner, my French teacher at Westlake Boys High School in Auckland from the early 1960s in Dunedin where he moved as Rector of Kings High School in the mid 1960s.

It was a real treat.

We’d vaguely kept in touch over the years (I went to school with his son Trevor, so the relationship was a bit more than teacher:pupil), but the last time we’d actually seen each other was in 1971 or 1972.

He died in May this year, aged 96 and his daughter Rennie asked if I’d care to share something to be read at the celebration of his life on 14 October.

I rated him massively and I never really knew why until I sat down and put pixels to Cloud.

You’ll perhaps understand what sort of man he was from the commendation that won him the Military Medal in Italy as a sergeant at the age of 23

You’ll all know him as “Jack”
To me, he’s always been “Mr Bremner”.
My name’s John Burland, but he knew me as “Jonty”.
And the Bremners are the only people left to call me that.
Mr Bremner taught me French and hockey at Westlake Boys High School in Auckland – Trevor and I were foundation pupils in 1961 and through our friendship, I was privileged to experience Mr Bremner at closer quarters that I would otherwise have.
The Bremners lived in Tui Glen Road in Birkenhead, we lived in Gladstone Road, Northcote, never separated by more than a 20 minute walk through Kauri Glen Bush. The traffic was bidirectional, Trev’s visits sometimes with Rennie in his slipstream.
The thing that struck me then and has remained with me was his vibrance and focus, his direct manner and his aura of competence. They’re traits that I’ve since recognised in the best CEOs I’ve worked with in the aviation industry.
Mr Bremner had them in spades and – coupled with his brisk military gait – he was a force to be reckoned with.
But the thing that stuck with me most is his report of his time in France after being awarded a Wolf Fisher scholarship in the early 1960s.
He told of the phone number he’d been given to call when he arrived in Paris that responded with a recorded message. He needed 3 calls and a pocket full of centimes to decipher it.
He said “I quickly realised that I spoke French, but not their French…!”
Years later that resonated with me, newly transferred to Lufthansa’s main base in Frankfurt in 1974 with a year’s Hounslow High School German evening classes under my belt.
I spoke German, but not their German…
He also spoke of the magical foodstuffs that he’d encountered. (This was at a time when cheese in New Zealand came in 1lb blocks of “mild’ or “tasty”.)
“They have this cheese over there called camembert and it’s so soft in the middle that you can eat it with a spoon
Our small (2000 year old) village is about an hour’s drive north of the Alsace-Lorraine border and we’ll zip down there every 6 weeks or so, taking a short cut through France to the Burda art museum in Baden-Baden and filling the chilly bin with magical foodstuffs at the Leclerc supermarket on the way back. 
We’ll be in the cheese department, looking for Saint Felicien (even runnier than camembert) and I’ll murmur “They have this cheese over there…” and my long-suffering wife Ali will shake her head and complete with “that’s so soft that you can eat it with a spoon
We visited the Bremners early last year and laughed about how things like this become hardwired into your life.
Then he told me another tale.
“In 1965, I was marking UE(University Entrance) papers when a fellow marker said “Oh, Jack, I’ve just got a Westlake dictation here. J Burland”
“Well, you won’t find any mistakes in that” I said “And I was right”
Then he said – and this is over 50 years later –  “But Jonty, your composition was very disappointing”
A few days later, he wrote
“I did appreciate the effort you made to come down and see me, Jonty. After seeing you, when we were at the supermarket we decided to buy some camembert and I am looking forward to eating it with a spoon!
Thanks so much for coming,
So I guess now I can join you in calling him “Jack”.
Someone at Kings – in disbelief that he hadn’t gone on forever – wrote:
“Gentleman Jack. Old-school Jack. Major Jack. He believed in a world of respect for others and love for all.”
That’s my Jack, too.
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The Avis scam

indexDSC_0012This post was originally to let off steam about an obvious attempt to palm me off an obviously damaged car and later ping me for the repair bill.

It’s since developed into a running commentary on what appears to be a systemic attempt to defraud customers.

If anyone wants to start a class action against Avis, count me in.

Don’t get the impression that every rental from Avis is an unpleasant experience – that’s not the case – but blatant overcharging and obvious attempts to conceal existing damage appear to be a core part of their business model.

Oh, and don’t expect any response from their customer service.

Google “Avis scam“.  This post is the 6th 3rd most popular on the interwebs

Update:10 May 2018

Did I say that I never have problems with Avis in the States?

Let me correct that…

Book a car via my Avis Preferred membership for LAX with drop-off 10 days later at SeaTac in Seattle.

First you travel close to 16 hours from New Zealand, then you join a queue of 20 people outside the Preferred booth. Just what you need

Because we’re sorry, we’re short on cars.

Wait 30 minutes, get a car assigned, it’s in the car wash, we’ll bring it round to the left of the booth.

Wait 10 minutes, find someone to ask, they disappear.

Repeat after another 10 minutes.

After 30 minutes, they find the car, parked where it’s taken them 20 minutes to find it.

Everything’s fine for the first couple of days until…the car dies at a traffic light.

Starts again no problem.

Then 30 minutes later, it dies again.

Drive to John Wayne airport, fill it up, talk to Avis (who couldn’t have been nicer), check it in, get a replacement sorted in no time and away we go.

Car warms up and there’s a stench of either a bleed from the exhaust or oil in the aircon.

Back to John Wayne, fill it up, check it in, new car.

Drop the car off at SeaTac (yes, I did fill it up. I always fill it up) and there’s no-one to check cars in.

System’s down, just drop it off, it’s all good.

Included in my bill I get a couple of days  is a refueling charge for over $80 and a total misrepresentation of the vehicles and mileage for the rental.

Provide Avis with a timeline, including the gas stations I used and their distance from the drop-off locations (nothing over 2 miles) and ……SILENCE.

At some stage, I’ve got a “How did you love your most recent rental?” survey from Avis.

Responded saying it was OK (apart from the crap cars and the wait and the lack of drop-off facilities) and actually got a mail back from the Operations and Customer Experience Manager at LAX with an apology.

So I copied my mail to him and actually got a response from his deputy who committed to refunding the incorrect charge AND the charge that I ALWAYS make if I’m forced to jump through hoops and spend time justifying my claim.

That was 4 weeks ago.

Since then I’ve had a single “The check’s in the mail” response.

And no refund….



Update: 10 July 2014

I rent with Avis as infrequently as possible (except in the USA) and Heathrow is the best example why.

The shuttle driver doesn’t ask if I’m a Preferred member, so I wait in line for 10 minutes until the agent tells me to go to the Preferred booth somewhere in the carpark.

Ask for an Excess Reduction.

“Which on?e”

“What have you got?”

“Well, standard is £1000 excess”

“How do I reduce it to zero”

“With our Excess Reduction”

“Do you have more than one?”


Monty Python couldn’t do it better

Find the car and there’s a Damage Report, saying that there’s some damage to the rear of the car.

I can’t see anything, so back to the booth and ask the agent to point out the damage.

“Is this a quiz?” she asks

I suggest that this isn’t getting us anywhere, to which she responds that she “doesn’t like my attitude”


Damage assessor comes and says ” There’s no damage here”, then is overruled by someone who says “Yes, there is, see this scuff mark on the boot lip where someone’s let a suitcase drag over the plastic protector? That’s damaged”

We spend the next 10 minutes logging EVERY SINGLE CHIP/SCUFF MARK/DENT on the entire car.

Just how anal can you get….?

Update: 2 October 2013

This is how it’s meant to work:

You arrive at Boston-Logan airport, pick up the shuttle bus to the car rental centre. Walk into what looks like an airport passenger terminal, with check-in desks for each rental company. Go straight to the parking garage – spacious and brightly lit – and ask Avis’s Preferred desk to add Ms. YMBFA to the contract as a driver.

Can’t do that – spouses are automatically included. No charge.

No extra charge either for full insurance with no excess.

Oh, and did I mention that they upgraded to something with a bonnet hood that approximates the size of an aircraft carrier?

For $24 a day…

Update: 18 September 2013

Dear Ms xx,
thanks for the upgrade to an MB180 at Manchester on Thursday (I assume it was your doing). Unfortunately, I couldn’t take you up on it – I dislike stale cigarette smoke intensely and the vehicle stank (as did the previous one at Manchester). However, your people retrieved quite quickly – 10 minutes or so – with the vehicle group that I’d booked. They followed the “close positively and disclose fully” guidelines, although couldn’t explain a discrepancy between my reservation and the rental agreement. Back from the Preferred cabin to the main desk, a mere 15 minute wait until it was explained.
The usual correction of the damage report – 2 scratches significantly larger than the ones originally noted.
On returning, your check-in agent claimed that the petrol tank wasn’t full and that there would be a charge for refuelling. I convinced him (showed him the fuel gauge, mileage, fuel bill from the airport petrol station) that this was not the case and he admitted that “some of these cars don’t show full when they are”
All in all, an average Avis UK rental

Update: 21 August 2013

Success at last! A grovelling apology, a repayment of what they’d overcharged me and – for my inconvenience – the generous refund of a further £6.96.
Oh, and a promise that it won’t happen again

Update: 7 August 2013

Avis UK’s Executive Offices are in on the act. I got hold of their CEO’s email address, she responded within hours and they’re investigating.

Haven’t yet thought to correct the billing, but I’m sure they’ll get around to that at some stage.

Update: 5 August 2013

Birmingham, UK

Confirmed reservation, 2 days £69.

I ask the agent at the desk in Terminal 1 to reduce the excess from £800 to £0 (their system won’t let me do it online)

Pick up the car at the parking lot, get a folded contract (as  a Preferred member, they have your signature on file), check the car against the Vehicle Condition Report – they say there’s an aerial, car has no aerial.Agent changes it.
If I hadn’t checked, they would have charged me £70.

Return the car, Avis booth closed (Saturday 16:00). Agent in the terminal refuses to issue a final bill, because he can’t check the car in.

Look at the contract.

They’ve charged me £80 on top of the original reservation quote for fuel pre-purchase (never requested) and various items that are specifically included in the original quote.

Oh, and a £5 charge for asking Avis to do something that their system won’t let me do – give them money to reduce the excess.

Call the Birmingham office to clarify the issues – wait for 26 minutes in a queue to be told that the station is busy and isn’t accepting calls.

And of course they don’t respond to emails….

Update:15 November 2011

It gets better. Or worse.

It was dark, I was backing out in an unfamiliar parking lot and the motel owner in Auckland, New Zealand had decided in his infinite wisdom to paint the pillars black.

My fault.

Horrible grinding noise, swiped the side of the car along one of the pillars, took off the wing mirror.

Returned the car  to Avis and the agent pointed out that there’s a $2750 (plus tax) excess.

I was fairly sure that I was covered, but I paid the $3000+ bill and checked it out on the flight to LA.

Sure enough, the confirmation email from Avis had a whole list of things that I’d either accepted or declined and one (Excess Reduction) that was neither nor.

I asked the Avis people in LAX what the excess on the rental that I picked up was – “There is none. It’s automatically included, because your profile says so”

So I simulated the booking on their website and IT DOESN’T ALLOW YOU TO MODIFY THE PREFERENCES IN YOUR PROFILE. (I’m an Avis Preferred customer)

It just generates an email, showing that I haven’t declined Excess Reduction (I couldn’t decline it) so it’s reasonable to assume that it’s included.

Challenged the excess with Avis New Zealand.

Prompt response: You declined the Excess Reduction (ER)

I didn’t.

“Your profile says that you always want to decline ER”

It doesn’t.

It can’t because there’s no option to do so and only 3 countries have draconian excesses – UK, Australia, New Zealand.

A couple of weeks after the incident (and having talked to Avis in Germany to confirm the profile status), I underpin my claim with screenshots of the entire process and the Call Centre agent passes the file to the insurance department who IMMEDIATELY see that their system is dysfunctional and refund me the excess.

They also send me copies of the repair bills which total $1700. They’ve had them for 3 weeks and they hadn’t even considered refunding the difference between the excess and the actual repair costs.

By this stage, I’ve escalated the case to Avis’s MD for New Zealand.

She delegates it to an assistant and – in mangled English – I get this response:

  • There’s nothing wrong with their system
  • The Call Centre agent didn’t blatantly lie to me on 2 or more occasions
  • They’ve refunded the excess (but they blithely ignore the fact that they would have overcharged me by $1300)

Oh, and of course there was the usual damage that I found when I collected the car, despite the usual reassurances that the car was IMMACULATE…..

Update:17 June 2011

Return a car in Auckland, NZ, have it checked in by an Avis rep, get a printout of the bill.

Credit card gets hit with a refuelling charge. Query it, Avis acknowledges that the car was full, take 2 weeks to credit me.

Next time, I’m charging THEM for my time. At my consultancy rate of €3k a day

Update: 3 November 2010

Rent a car in Los Angeles and drive fewer than 75 miles and you’ll get whacked with a Fuel Service charge of $17.06.
Even if you’ve filled up.
And they refuse to consider adjustments under $50

The original post 10 April 2007

It works like this.

You’ve booked a car, you pick up the keys and you get your car from the Avis lot at the airport.

It’s dark, it’s raining, you look quickly to make sure that everything’s OK (and far as you can see) and off you go.

Return it the next day and they’ll say “Oh, this (supermarket-parking-lot-car-door-ding) dent wasn’t there when you hired it. That’ll be £/€/$200”

Or you’re on the motorway before you notice a stone chip in the windscreen.

Call them up to report it and they’ll say “Well, it must have happened since you hired it”

Or you get whacked with a £70 charge on your credit card. Turns out that the radio antenna was missing. (You’ve picked the car up in the morning, driven to see the CEO of one of my customers, parked in their executive car park (where the security guard tore off the antenna in a fit of pique – yeah, right…) and dropped it back off in the evening. Find out later that one of their valet goons didn’t take the antenna off and put it on the passenger seat (which is what they’re meant to do) before putting it through the car wash. Don’t get your £70 back though)

But this last one was the best. By far

Marseille airport, brand new Opel Astra, perfect condition according to them.


Half the side of the car was missing.

OK, that’s an exaggeration, but there were


on the car.

DSC_0010 DSC_0011 DSC_0012 DSC_0013

Which was 1/4 empty.

Look at the damn pictures.


It’s almost as if the rental locations are given targets for this sort of stuff.

It’s the same old greasy number wherever you go

  • You get to pick up a car in a dingy corner of a multistory carpark and return it to to their blindingly well-lit check-in area. (Manchester airport)
  • Fill up the car 3km from the return lot and get charged €20 for refuelling. (Lyons)
  • Get the car delivered to you double-parked in front of the terminal in the rain. You try and check it out thoroughly with an policeman with a sub-machine gun hurrying you along (Birmingham airport)
  • Agree that they’ll reimburse you for 1/4 tank of gas and they either calculate the tank smaller or use a gas price that you’ll find nowhere but Saudi Arabia. (Marignane airport)
  • Get a (supposedly fully-fuelled) car with the fuel warning lamp burning (Birmingham airport)
  • Try and get someone to check out the car when you return it with a flight to catch and you get “Can’t do it now. It’ll be at least 30 minutes” (But I can ring up a charge for damage in milliseconds). Manchester and/or Birmingham.
  • Get cars on 3 separate occasions within a month, each with windscreen chips or panel damage. Un-noted, of course. (Auckland)
  • Try and draw these shortcomings (politely put) to their attention and your comments disappear into a central cesspit on the American corporate site. You’ll never hear from them. (New Zealand)

And you know what? Boris at Marseille was the only person with the courtesy and common sense to apologise

And if someone from Avis is reading this..



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A day in the Laguna Art Museum – iPhone 7

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There’s no such thing as bad weather….

There’s only inappropriate clothing….

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A day at OCMA – iPhone 7+

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