One of the biggest obstacles to independent travel is the fear of things going wrong. Without the safety net of a tour company, worrying about how to cope might well seem like a sure fire way of ruining a good holiday. I decided long ago that I’d prefer to be in control – no surprises for those who know me beyond the computer screen. But things do go wrong and it’s good to know what to do if that’s the case.
Missing a flight is stressful. It doesn’t matter why or whose fault it was, it’s stressful. Mostly, when I’ve missed flights, it’s been a case of a late-arriving inbound flight causing a missed connection, but I’ve arrived at the airport on more than one occasion to find my flight had already departed. You can read the stories here:
What to do if you miss a connecting flight because the inbound flight is late
If you’re still on the plane when your next one is merrily backing off the stand, no amount of pleading with airport staff is going to get you on that flight. The first thing to think about is whether you have a through ticket. If you buy two separate tickets and the first is delayed, the carrier operating the second leg has no obligation to honour your ticket. Don’t choose flights with very short connection times either. Immigration officials can be very stubborn.
Minimise your chances of being stranded by choosing a carrier who operates multiple flights a day to your final destination if at all possible and avoid opting for the last flight of the day. If they have space, you’ll still get to your destination the same day, albeit later than planned.
Speak to the ground staff as quickly as possible; if there are more people to rebook than there are seats available, you don’t want to be last in the queue. Holding a frequent flier card with that airline can also help you move up the queue. It can also pay to get an aisle seat as near to the front of the plane as you can, particularly if you know you have a tight connection.
Be nice. It’s not the fault of the ground staff if your plane was late in. Getting angry isn’t going to help. In fact, it’s likely to hinder your chances of organising a speedy replacement flight if you piss off the one person that can arrange it for you. Save your breath and stay calm.
Be flexible. Can you travel to a different airport in the same city? It’s inconvenient, perhaps, but still better than not arriving at all. Let the ground staff know what you’d be prepared to put up with. If you’re due at a hotel but are going to lose the first night of your booking, get in touch with them and explain – they might let you off any financial penalties they’d usually impose.
What to do if it’s your fault you miss the flight
Technically, the airline doesn’t have to do a thing and you’ll have to abandon your travel plans or buy a new ticket. So be nice and hope they take pity on you – and I mean really nice. Appeal to their better nature. Coming back from Bangkok, arriving 21 hours late for a flight just after midnight, I explained to the check in staff my humiliating predicament. As a Geography teacher who taught about time zones and tourism amongst other things, if they couldn’t fit me onto that night’s flight, I was going to have to confess to my students the real reason I’d shown up for work a day late…
What to do if it’s their fault – your flight is cancelled
Your airline must offer to rebook you on a later flight or offer you a refund. They have an obligation to get you to your destination, though not necessarily by the routing you’ve chosen or on a particular day.
Note that if your flight originates in the EU or arrives there from anywhere else but on an EU airline, you are entitled to compensation – even if the airline claims you aren’t. If an EU and a non-EU codeshare applies – such as Virgin and Delta, for instance – you’ll only fall into this category if your ticket and therefore contract is with the EU airline – Virgin in my example. I had a long and drawn out fight with Cityjet over this right to compensation, but eventually won. Read about how to get your money back here:
You’ll see from that post that keeping evidence is crucial. Make sure you keep hold of boarding pass stubs and receipts until you’re safely home without any problems. Never send off your only copy of something; scan instead.
Make sure you have decent insurance in case you need to recoup your costs that way instead. This may be your only option for compensation if you’re travelling outside the EU on a non-EU airline.
For more information, there’s a useful link here:
Last July, I flew in to Paris from Lima, Peru with Air France to connect with a CityJet flight back to London City Airport. I checked in as normal at Orly airport on 4 July and made my way airside.
Noting that the information board didn’t yet have a gate number, I took a seat and read a magazine. After a while, I thought it would be wise to check if the flight had been allocated a gate and was puzzled to see that fifteen minutes before the scheduled take-off slot, the flight had disappeared from the screens. There were no CityJet ground staff around and after asking a few airport employees, I decided to go back landside to find out what was going on.
At the check-in desk, I managed to find out that the flight had been cancelled “for technical reasons”. I was told that there was no way I’d be able to get back to London that evening as the Heathrow and City flights were all full. The CityJet employee was apologetic but when asked for a solution, gave a Gallic shrug and basically told me there was none. A couple of businessmen in the same predicament joined me and received the same treatment. Eventually, a supervisor was called who repeated that there was “no solution”. Eventually, after some heated debate, he acknowledged that it was CityJet’s responsibility to get us back to the UK and suggested that we go on standby for the following morning’s flight – but that it was possible we wouldn’t be able to travel as the flight wasn’t showing sufficient spaces.
To cut a long story short, the only way of a guaranteed return to London was to take the train to Gare du Nord and take Eurostar at our own expense – and under EU rules, claim compensation for the cancelled flight. To do this required the return of our checked luggage. At first, we were told it was waiting on the carousel, but it wasn’t and no member of ground staff knew where it was. Having booked a Eurostar ticket on the understanding I’d be able to leave the airport pretty much immediately, I then had a nail-biting wait for the luggage to be tracked down followed by a mad dash across Paris. I caught my Eurostar train with five minutes to spare.
Back in the UK, I submitted my request for compensation. Having been given a slip of paper at Orly with a handwritten note reading “ticket of the flight can be refound (sic)” I didn’t envisage any issues, even if it had been incorrectly dated as 4 June. I filled in the relevant form from CityJet’s website, attached scans of the relevant receipts and tickets and waited for a response.
Nothing happened for several weeks, until I received this reply on 21 August:
Dear Mrs. Hammond Johnson,
Thank you for contacting CityJet.
We write in response to your email regarding your flight incident and we would like to apologise for the inconvenience caused on this occasion.
Having studied your file, we inform you that the incident was due to a technical issue. Such cases are considered as extraordinary events for which we cannot be held liable according to the European Regulation 261/2004.
We therefore regret to inform you that we cannot agree to your compensation request.
We hope your subsequent journeys with us will be to your full satisfaction.
CityJet Customer Care
Not to be fobbed off, I visited the Which? consumer guide website, which suggested that there was a relevant court case appeal being heard regarding Jet2. Basically, if the appeal went in the customer’s favour rather than that of the airline, technical issues would no longer be classified as extraordinary and I would be entitled to 250 euros in compensation. I decided to wait it out. In November, I read online that the ruling was what I’d hoped for and so I used the Which? template to create the following letter:
24 November 2014
I am writing to you in connection with the above flight on which I was booked to travel on 4 July 2014.
The flight was supposed to depart from Paris Orly at 1710, but was cancelled fifteen minutes prior to take off.
When I tried to get compensation under the EU Denied Boarding Regulation 261/2004, I was told I was not eligible because the cancellation was caused by an extraordinary circumstance.
Technical problems are not extraordinary circumstances unless they are the type that you could not expect to encounter when operating a flight.
The decisions made in the Wallentin-Hermann vs. Alitalia case 2009 and Jet2 vs. Huzar case 2014 have confirmed that routine technical difficulties are not extraordinary circumstances. Although Jet2 appealed the ruling, the decision was upheld in November 2014.
I am entitled to the sum of 250 euros compensation and look forward to receiving the sterling equivalent within the next 14 days.
I attach a copy of the ticket and previous correspondence I have had with your airline,
Julia Hammond Johnson
I posted it recorded delivery as suggested and waited. Weeks passed and I heard nothing. I sent an email to CityJet requesting an answer to my letter. The following day, I received this reply:
Dear Mrs. Hammond Johnson,
I write in response to your email from Saturday, January 31, 2015.
We take into consideration all the emails sent to you previously from our colleague Veronica on the 21 August 2015 regarding your request for the compensation of your flight cancellation.
At that time as per the European Regualtions EC261/2004 technical issue was classified as Extraordinary events which was not eligible for any compensation. Your compensation request was denied in August before the decision regarding technical issues was amended. Therefore your case was close in August 2014 and the decision was made in November 2014.Taking into consideration the European Regulations at that time you are not entitle to any compensation.
On this occasion we must deny your request for compensation.
CityJet Customer Care
Unimpressed by CityJet’s attempts to wriggle out of their legal obligations, I sent this terse reply:
As you are well aware, the ruling in November applies to flights going back up to six years. You are therefore not legally entitled to deny my request for compensation under British and EU law. I am quite prepared to take this to court and to the media, neither of which would do anything good for CityJet’s image.
Please reconsider the request. Surely 250 euros is better than the negative publicity which would be generated. I have no intention of dropping this matter.
Julia Hammond Johnson
It did the trick. I received this email response almost immediately:
Dear Mrs. HAMMOND JOHNSON,
I write in response to your email from Tuesday, February 03, 2015 whereby you explain you have experienced a flight cancellation.
We are pleased to inform you that we agree to offer you the full compensation amount of Eur 250.00.
In order to answer to your request, we would be grateful if you could send us the following documents by responsding to this email
•Complete bank details including the IBAN (International Bank Account Number),
•Swift code / BIC,
•the full name of the Account holder,
•bank name including address
We are looking forward to read from you.
CityJet Customer Care
It made me chuckle – the first line of Kaminee’s response giving the impression that no previous correspondence had taken place. I did as I was asked and was promised compensation within 21 working days. I am pleased to report that the money was credited to my account on 4 March, eight months to the day after the flight cancellation. Other than the fact that the value of the euro has taken a nosedive against the pound during that time, I am happy with the result. Together with the refund I received last July from Opodo (with whom I booked) for the unused flight leg, the compensation I received covered the cost of my train journey back to London.
What have I learnt from this?
Firstly, know your rights and make sure any correspondence you send quotes the relevant court rulings. Secondly, keep all your receipts and paperwork, taking scans to send if your complaint is made via email. Thirdly, where you have to use the regular mail, ensure you use recorded delivery so that you can prove your letter was received and on what date. Finally, I’ve decided that I won’t be travelling with CityJet again – any airline can be forced to cancel a flight, but CityJet’s deliberate attempts to avoid paying out compensation and its lack of integrity as a company mean that I shall choose to take my business elsewhere in future.