EasyJet’s gesture hints at the dark side of corporate goodwill

Beware when a company says it’s making a goodwill gesture — especially if it’s a company not known for its goodwill.

Case in point: Duncan Lane. He had booked a flight between London and Venice on the British low-cost carrier easyJet. Lane lives in San Francisco, and purchased the tickets on the company’s U.S. website, paying in U.S. dollars and providing his U.S. address.

At the conclusion of his ticket purchase, the easyJet site suggested that Lane purchase travel protection — a type of insurance policy — to cover his purchase. He opted in, selecting the policy that provides trip cancellation protection.

Only his trip wasn’t protected, because deep in the policy’s terms and conditions was a clause stating that the policy only covers U.K. residents.

There are two types of readers of this site: those who love travel insurance and those who hate it. The travel agents of the world, who are well-versed in industry rules and have seen insurance work beautifully over the years, tend to fall into the former camp. The consumer advocates of the world, who know that travelers make purchases suggested to them without reading terms and conditions 35 pages in length, tend to fall into the latter camp.

The “rules are rules” readers don’t like it when we advocate for people like Lane, who missed the fact that easyJet’s terms and conditions contain — on page 10 of a 35-page document — a clause stating the policy only applies to U.K. residents.

But even the hardest among you may soften just a little when you hear that Lane, who happens to be a U.K. citizen but still fails to meet the policy’s six-month U.K. residency requirement, needed to cancel his flight to attend the funeral of his nephew, who was killed in an automobile accident.

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You might pause if you read his articulate inquiry into why easyJet, which provides language- and country- specific websites, would continue to offer an insurance product to customers in the United States who could never be covered by the policy.

And you’ll be angered to know that the insurance company that provides coverage told him that it was his responsibility to read the policy’s exclusions and cancel within 14 days if he didn’t like them.

Leave it to an insurance company to say, “Too bad. So sad.”

Answering the first part of Lane’s inquiry was, dare I say, easy. For years, easyJet has led the European ultra-low-cost carrier market, selling seats on planes and charging add-ons for every other imaginable service. easyJet doesn’t stop at charging for checked luggage and snacks. It charges for calling the airline, using a credit card, bringing a lap child, making a group booking, canceling within 24 hours, changing your ticket and getting a seat assignment.

Last year, easyJet earned negative publicity for introducing a $16 fee to provide proof of flight cancellations to passengers needing the evidence for travel insurance claims. At one time it was rumored that easyJet would charge a fee for use of on-board lavatories, but so far that idea has been pooh-poohed.

In other words, easyJet charges fees wherever it can, and sale of insurance products is just one of the many ways the company pads its bottom line.

When Lane complained to easyJet about the policy exclusion, he received an email telling him to expect a response in seven days. When more than two weeks elapsed with no response, he submitted a second complaint, and simultaneously wrote to us for help.

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After several weeks, easyJet did the unthinkable. It responded to Lane’s request for a refund, apologized for the misunderstanding about applicability of its travel insurance and issued a full refund. The reason for the refund? A one-time gesture of goodwill.

For Lane, I’m happy to see the return of his money. His family tragedy triggered his cancellation, and I don’t think companies should profit when they don’t provide a service.

But there’s something about the gesture of goodwill that doesn’t sit right with me. Instead of changing disclosures or removing the restrictive insurance policy from its global sites, easyJet sweeps the issue under the rug, and it continues to sell the policy to whomever might be so careless as to believe it will protect them.

Goodwill gestures make us feel good. But make no mistake about it — they’re the settlement on the courthouse steps. One-off solutions don’t address the root problem, and the company’s decision to sell no-risk insurance to untold millions doesn’t make easyJet the good guy.

It makes easyJet the problem.

Should easyJet have returned Lane's money?

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Jessica Monsell

A writer and natural advocate, Jessica joined our consumer advocacy effort following a decade of work on behalf of air crash victims at one of the nation's largest plaintiffs' law firms. She has lived in Europe and Asia, but now calls Charleston, S.C. home.

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