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.

  • Bill___A

    It was nice of them to return the money and I am sorry for the family’s loss.
    I am not going to bother to look at EasyJet’s website to see where they put the insurance information, including where it applies to UK residents only, but I can tell you that “each and every other” site that I have bought tickets on in the UK has clearly and prominently displayed this information for me, (without reading 16 pages in the legalese) including three weeks ago when I bought Lufthansa tickets from London to Munich and did not purchase the offered insurance which plainly stated this.

    If Easyjet is “hiding” this information then they should stop. However I have certainly been able to tell when insurance is valid and when it isn’t right from the purchase page If EasyJet is hiding this, they are, I think, in the minority.

  • sirwired

    I agree that if they ask where you live, a couple lines of code to tell you you can’t buy the insurance if you don’t select “UK” as your address, would be a good idea.

  • AJPeabody

    I got a nice chuckle. Lavatory fee is pooh-poohed.

  • Regina Litman

    I’m guessing that the restriction on who can buy this insurance is due to where they are authorized to sell it by regulatory agencies. If EasyJet has sold this policy to someone who is not a citizen or recent 6-month resident of such a place, this insurance contract was not legal and thus void or voidable and should have been refunded. I’m not a lawyer, though, so this is just speculation.

  • John Keahey

    First, never buy insurance on an airline site; it protects the airline, not the customer.

    Second, it was Ryanair that suggested the toilet charge, not Easyjet. Do your research please: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/travel/article-1287645/easyJet-boss-Stelios-says-toilet-charges-board-flights-stupid.html

  • Dutchess

    Seems like this might be something the state or federal insurance regulators might be interested in hearing about. EasyJet is presumably unlicensed to sell insurance in Lane’s state.

    THAT BEING SAID….EasyJet’s website CLEARLY states that “Insurance is for UK residents only” right in the booking box. It isn’t “hidden”. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/d89b1dcb481856bc6d49abcf02957f86eec53718eba70de41d750ca68d3115e7.jpg


    I have actually booked on the Easyjet US site several times. I too have been offered the insurance so I simply clicked on the link on the site for the insurance to get details. It is clearly noted that insurance is only for those who have resided in the UK for at least 6 months. It is not hidden. Maybe EasyJet should add a line that say check here if not resident in the UK for at least six months or a similar statement. But saying the information is not disclosed until page 10 of a 35 page document is significantly stretching the truth.

  • AAGK

    It would never occur to me that an optional add on during a ticket purchase would exclude me, then tack on pages of reading when a simple, “for U.K. Residents” would suffice. Easy jet sounds horrific and should immediately remove this option from its US website. Easy Jet’s refund is not goodwill and when I hear the phrase, “we are going to make a one time exception”, I am always cautious.

  • Rebecca

    Now I tend to be a rules are rules person. But to sell a product to someone who cannot possibly benefit, when the company collected information knowing the customer can’t benefit, that’s ridiculous. I’d argue that easyJet is outside the rules here, not the OP. The reason is awful, but it is also extraneous. He’s due a refund no mater what happened.

  • Harvey-6-3.5

    You shouldn’t need to read the policy if they have your passport info, which they do, saying you are a US citizen. They should simply program their system to omit the insurance purchase option, because you can’t buy it.

  • Bill___A

    Thank you for doing that. I wasn’t going to bother, I had a pretty good idea that the information was there.

  • Kairho

    Being a US citizen and being a UK resident are mutually exclusive things. So is address. Many US citizens work and live in the UK and still often use their US address for certain transactions.

  • Kairho

    Unfortunately, that’s not a panacea. Many US ex-Pats, for example, live and work in the UK but use a US address for things such as credit cards (and someone there, such as a relative or bookkeeper, pays the cards).

  • joycexyz

    Yes, I thought I remembered this as a Ryanair money grab. Fortunately (for them) they thought through the unpleasant consequences.

  • Judge Jury

    My one and only experience with EasyJet was booking a flight from the US for a roundtrip flight from Geneva to Corsica last June. There was a problem that I encountered with the booking process which required contacting their 800 number. They were amazingly efficient resolving the issue and my journey was without incident. For a novice their whole process, I agree, is loaded with minefields but speaking to many friends who use Easyjet regularly they all seem to be satisfied and enjoy the low fares.

  • cscasi

    Good review

  • cscasi

    Of course, it is there. It is just that it is made NOT to stand out, isn’t it? I am sure it has caught lots of unsuspecting tourists and the airline has made a profit on them because most do not bother to follow up and complain.

  • cscasi

    Good to see a happy customer. Perhaps the airline is not all bad after all.

  • Lindabator

    It DOES clearly state that – he just did not bother to read

  • Dutchess

    Should it be flashing red with a disco ball? Perhaps animated? It’s not like it’s buried in the TOS you don’t even have to click or squint to see it.

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