Section: Capital Region,  Page: D1

Date: Thursday, February 5, 2009

When you're not punctual, it can throw off the whole day. If your limo driver is late, seriously late, it can ruin a special occasion.

John and Janet Pollay of Cohoes were ready to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary in style. Their children hired a coach van to transport them and their spouses -- 12 people in all -- to New York City for a Broadway show and celebratory dinner.

Only a problem with the limousine company involved cast a pall over what should have been a very happy day.

Even after the matter was finally settled by a small-claims court judge, it still lingers on.

"We tried to make the best of it. And we did have a nice time. But this is not what we planned on," said Kris Delair of Wynantskill, one of the adult children who planned the trip for her parents.

Delair hired Touch of Class Limousine in Albany to ferry her, her husband, siblings, brothers and sisters-in-law and parents to New York on Sept. 27. It was going to be a surprise for their parents, who knew they'd be having an anniversary celebration but did not know to what lengths their children went to make the day special.

Right out of the gate, there were problems.

The limo driver was 90 minutes late.

As most Albanians know it takes about three hours to get to New York on a Saturday morning, and Delair and company had budgeted in enough time for the ride and a pit stop or two along the way.

But now, after many frantic phone calls to the limo company, the clock was ticking and the curtain would soon rise on the show they had tickets for, "Young Frankenstein." Curtain time was at 2 p.m. Someone at Touch of Class kept assuring Delair that the driver was on his way.

They were ultimately 40 minutes late for the show, missing the first five scenes of Act 1. And the driver, Delair said, blamed the family for being late because they had to pull over once to use the restroom.

"We were all back in the car before the driver was finished refueling," Delair wrote in a complaint to Touch of Class. And furthermore, she said, it shouldn't have mattered if they needed to stop and use the bathroom five times. Had they not left 90 minutes late, it wouldn't have been an issue.

Adding to their distress, the coach that they rode in was dirty, Delair said. It was more like an airport shuttle bus than the coach van she had requested, and a cooler on the floor still had drinks in it from a previous trip.

But instead of an apology, they were blamed.

She filed a small claims lawsuit and promptly won. A judge awarded her a little over $1,000, roughly equal to the price of the matinee tickets.

Delair's parents took the day in stride. "They felt bad that it didn't work out the way we had planned it," Delair said. She said that they all tried to make the best of it and enjoyed each other's company, anyway.

Now, Touch of Class owner Maria Lanides is having trouble making payments on the judgment, and is furious with Delair for making the issue public.

"She's part of an American culture that just thinks they're owed everything, and need to get everything back," said Lanides, in a long phone conversation with me, defending herself. She said that she's done much charity work over the years and is being unfairly maligned by Delair, whom she kept referring to as "that woman."

Ultimately, Lanides said, she regrets that Delair and her family had trouble that day, but disagrees with the judge that it was worth $1,000.

And she will pay Delair back, eventually, she vowed. But business is slow right now.

Like many companies I write about, it appears as if Touch of Class got in over its head. And instead of apologizing and trying to make it right with their customer, they dug in their heels and fought. Bad move, in my humble opinion. Your parents only get one 50th anniversary. And when you rely on a company to help make that day special, the company only has one shot to get it right. Mistakes happen. But when they do, the best course of action is to figure out what you can do to make things right with the customer.

Instead, this limousine company got angry and made a bad situation worse.