October Ferry News round-up

Corran Ferry

The MV Corran has made it back to its mooring on Loch Linnhe, but may not quite be ready for commencing service today as hoped. Highland Council said on Friday evening that “MV Corran has some technical issues that are being worked on to resolve as soon as possible.” Just another day or two after a year of absence….

Medical Appointment Protocol

Can’t get to or from a medical appointment on the mainland because there’s no space for your car? Can’t get home from a hospital discharge? The Urgent Medical Appointments Protocol is there to help you.
Unfortunately the protocol is not understood by some CalMac staff – particularly those in the Gourock call centre. We frequently have to intervene to help passengers who have tried to use the system, but have been incorrectly told they aren’t eligible. This happened just this week with new parents who could not get a ferry booking to return home with their new-born baby. We’ve written to CalMac to ask them to properly brief their call centre staff.

If you have a medical appointment or a hospital discharge*, can’t travel with your car and have been turned down by the Medical Appointment Protocol, please let us know. We can intervene to make sure that if you are eligible, you are helped.

*hospital discharge was for some reason only added to the protocol on a temporary basis, and for the moment does not qualify. Regardless, if that’s the reason for your need to travel, we will support you in accessing the medical protocol. Meantime we are also pressing for hospital discharge to be made permanently eligible.

No help for the Frisa in the short-term

With vehicles being left behind in Oban on pretty much every sailing this week; standing-room-only for foot passengers; and popular sailings sold out two weeks ahead, it’s painfully obvious that the Loch Frisa just cannot cope with demand on her own. We asked for help from the Hebridean Isles, which could have become available if the Alfred’s Stornoway berthing trials had been successful. Unfortunately they weren’t … so the newly-fixed Heb Isles is staying on the Stornoway – Ullapool route for the next few days at least.
She’s due to be relieved by the chartered MV Arrow next week, so perhaps there is hope yet. As things stand however, the Craignure-Oban service has to operate with just the Frisa until November 16th. For a summary of the winter ahead and which timetable operates when, see here.
Among other topics, we have written to CalMac’s MD Robbie Drummond today, asking for a guarantee that once the Glen Sannox enters service, Craignure-Oban will never again be timetabled as Frisa-only.

Islander Priority Pilot

The Islander Priority Pilot remains suspended, less than a week after being introduced. IT difficulties lead to CalMac having no option but to suspend it until they’ve figured out how to make it work smoothly. We’re hopeful that we’re talking about days, not weeks. It’s still working on the Coll/Tiree service where only one return sailing per day was involved. But the busier Craignure service has proven more difficult for CalMac’s systems. Watch out on local Facebook groups for updates.


Mull and Iona Ferry Committee’s Annual General Meeting is being held in An Roth, Craignure on Wednesday 29th November at 7pm. Our membership comes from right across our two islands, and we’re always open to new members to ensure we have full and fair representation from all areas and user types. Drop us an email if you’d like to find out more.

Be aware of difficult, and even impossible train connections

Because of the Frisa’s slow speed, it is very very difficult to make public transport connections work in Oban. In conjunction with CalMac’s insistence that foot passengers check-in at least 10 minutes before sailing time, many train-ferry connections are very tight. Some are so tight they’re impossible. The late Glasgow train on Fridays and Saturdays arrives 1 minute after CalMac insist you present yourself for boarding – yet it is published in timetables as a connecting service.

We have repeatedly asked CalMac to re-consider the 10 minute check-in rule, which we cannot see any significant justification for. CalMac insist that it’s needed in order to complete passenger manifests and pre-departure checks; and that it needs to be the same across the network for ‘consistency of customer experience’. Ferries routinely depart early however – they actually leave early more frequently than they do on time, according to FOI returns. If they can leave early so frequently, then logically they don’t need a full 10 minutes to prepare for departure.

We are again asking CalMac to reconsider the 10-minute rule, particularly in how it is applied to train passengers. If you have had particular difficulties caused by poor connections or the 10-minute rule, please let us know so that we can continue to make the case for improvement. It will be top of our agenda at our next meeting with Calmac management.

Turn-up-and-go tickets only valid for the season they were bought in

 With the introduction of CalMac’s new ticketing system, one returning feature was the ability to buy multi-journey tickets (or books as we used to call them). These new multi-journey tickets do not offer any price advantage, and they are only available on turn-up-and-go routes. So for frequent travellers, they are a convenient way to avoid having to buy a ticket for every journey.

Recently however CalMac have written to inform us that these tickets will only be valid for the timetable season in which they were bought. So if you buy a book now, it will only be valid until March 28th 2024. And if you buy a book on March 27th, it will only be valid for one day…. if you’re unlucky enough buy one in the last hours of a timetable season, you might not be able to use it at all….

This rule also applies to single-journey turn-up-and-go tickets – so be aware that if you buy a ticket in advance for (say) Fionnphort – Iona or Fishnish – Lochaline, and the timetable ‘season’ changes before you use it, your ticket will be invalid.

“Good will grace period”

CalMac are offering a good will grace period for this winter only. Any return or single turn-up-and-go ticket that was bought before October 23rd (when the winter timetable started), will be scannable and valid until November 30th.

Regarding multi-journey tickets, CalMac say this:

  • If you have a 10-Journey ticket which is connected to your customer account, and the product still has unused journeys remaining on it, from 23 October, these can be exchanged for a return journey ticket on the vessel and at port, and if you have any additional remaining unused journeys on your product, you can then contact our Customer Engagement Centre to receive replacement journey tickets – equivalent to the number of journeys that had not yet used from their 10 Journey product.  This will be sent to you by email and will not be accessible via your online account. 
  • If you have a 10-Journey ticket with no customer account / or a guest account, when you next travel with us, please surrender your 10-Journey ticket, and the team will replace this with 2 return journeys as a gesture of goodwill. 
  • These arrangements will be in place for this season only and as a gesture of goodwill. 

We have written to complain about this change, not just because it’s punitive, but because it does not appear to comply with the company’s own terms and conditions. We’ll keep you posted.

Accommodation refunds falling short

If your journey is disrupted as a result of service cancellation, CalMac are legally obliged to reimburse you for costs incurred, depending on the cause of the cancellation. (See the full company information here) . Where the cancellation is due to a technical issue (ie a breakdown) and as a result you have to pay for overnight accommodation, then the company will cover those costs up to a limit of £70 per person per night.

Particularly during the summer season, £70 falls far short of the prices that people are actually having to pay. We helped recently in the case of two travellers who were marooned in Oban due to a breakdown, and the cheapest accommodation they could find cost more than £300. We were able to persuade CalMac to pay the full amount, because they recognised that the £70 figure was very much out of date.

CalMac have undertaken to review the accommodation allowance, but in the meantime if you have not been reimbursed what you feel is fair after a sailing cancellation, please let us know so that we can try to help.

Can’t get through to port offices

We are hearing repeated complaints that it’s far too difficult to get through to our local port offices by phone. This issue has become worse since the introduction of the new ticketing system and is exacerbated by staff shortages. Once we get through the staff are great … but for one reason or another we just can’t get calls answered.

This is particularly impacting a) Iona residents trying to book request-only sailings b) farmers trying to book livestock c) passengers trying to travel under the Medical Appointment Protocol.

We’re doing what we can to encourage some improvement, and have suggested that dedicated email addresses for these purposes might be best for both staff and customers. If you have difficulty getting through to our local offices, please let us know so that we can continue pressing for improvement.

And finally ….that E-booking ‘feature’ to remind you about

All sailings are shown as sold out online if it’s less than 2 hours before departure time, irrespective of how many tickets have actually been sold. If you need to know if there is space on a ferry leaving in less than 2 hours, the only way you can find out for sure is by speaking to a local port office.

However, if you are just travelling as a foot passenger, for most of the year it is highly unlikely that spaces have sold out and our advice is to proceed to the port and buy a ticket there, even if the sailing is ‘sold out’ online. Almost all CalMac ferries have far more passenger capacity than is ever required … with the notable exception of the Loch Frisa.

If the service is being operated by the Loch Frisa on her own (as it is now) it is highly likely that ‘sold out’ actually does mean ‘sold out’. During Frisa-only periods, our advice is to make sure you have a ticket before trying to travel as a foot passenger.

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