No compensation for Alitalia bird ingestion

Paul DiFeterici’s recent Alitalia flight from Miami to Rome was delayed by seven hours. “We were given a paper with information to contact Alitalia customer relations for compensation,” he says. He tried calling and writing to the airline, but no luck.

“I haven’t heard from them,” he says. “Would you be able to help me contact the correct people?”

Before we do that, let’s rewind. It’s unusual to be compensated for any kind of airline delay in the States. But European law is different. EU 261 holds airlines responsible for many lengthy delays. And that’s why Alitalia handed out the forms to the passengers on DiFeterici’s flight. It appeared the carrier would have to offer compensation under EU law.

No matter what the final outcome, I thought DiFeterici was owed a straight answer. But he wasn’t getting one.

I emailed to address given, and received an automatic response. I tried calling by phone and each time was given another phone number.

I finally called Delta since they are the partner airline. Again I got the same email.

Why do they give us a letter of apology stating that we will receive compensation and then give us the runaround?

I suggested he send a brief, polite email to someone higher up at Delta and Alitalia. Unfortunately, Delta just referred him back to Alitalia, and Alitalia’s email addresses bounced.

So I contacted Alitalia on DiFeterici’s behalf.

An Alitalia representative contacted me almost immediately and said the airline had fixed its email problem. And then the passenger received a formal, written response.

We sincerely regret to learn of the inconvenience you experienced when traveling with Alitalia from Miami to Rome on September 20, 2011.

Our records show that flight AZ631 was delayed due the incoming flight from Rome was returned to the airport after take off as a result of bird ingestion in the engine. A change of aircraft and crew was required which resulted in heavy delays.

Please allow us to explain that, despite the rigorous maintenance schedules to which our aircraft are routinely subject, and our commitment to on-time performance, unexpected occasions arise which result in delays and cancellations.

We fully realize the frustration caused by these flight irregularities, however under EU Regulation 261/2004 the carrier is not obliged to pay compensation when the delay and/or cancellation is a result of conditions beyond the airline’s control (i.e. weather, strikes, technical problems, etc).

When a flight is delayed or canceled due to technical reasons, as was the case with the flights of September 201, 2011, it is being done for the safety of all passengers. Since these disruptions are beyond our control, we do not provide compensation, amenities or reimburse any additional expenses incurred during trip. Consequently, we must respectfully decline your request for compensation and trust you will understand our position in this regard.

Let’s go straight to the rule to see what the airline is referring to. You’ll find it in paragraph 14.

As under the Montreal Convention, obligations on operating air carriers should be limited or excluded in cases where an event has been caused by extraordinary circumstances which could not have been avoided even if all reasonable measures had been taken. Such circumstances may, in particular, occur in cases of political instability, meteorological conditions incompatible with the operation of the flight concerned, security risks, unexpected flight safety shortcomings and strikes that affect the operation of an operating air carrier.

Did AZ631 really suffer a bird ingestion? I don’t know how to verify that, or how EU regulators would. As far as I can tell, Alitalia is on the honor system to tell the truth about whatever “extraordinary” circumstances delay its flights.

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“I still don’t understand why they gave us that paper if they had no intention of honoring their policy,” says DiFeterici.

Neither do I.

(Photo: qua s/Flickr)

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at chris@elliott.org. Read more of Christopher's articles here.

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