Patrick Ryan and seven other passengers are stranded when British Airways’ computer system melts down. They’re traveling to Norway for a cruise and charter a flight so they would arrive in time to board the ship. Now, they can’t get reimbursed and want to know if our advocates can help them.
Question: Eight of us booked a Viking Ocean Cruise, sailing from Bergen, Norway. The cruise line booked our flights on British Airways. We all made it to London, but missed our connection to Norway, where our cruise was scheduled to leave at 7 p.m. the next evening.
All of us were stranded at Heathrow Airport, when British Airways had a massive computer meltdown. British Airways’ agents were overwhelmed, with passenger lines of up to 12 hours. The airline posted signs advising passengers to leave the airport and to try to find alternate travel arrangements from a different location.
One of our party called Viking, but it couldn’t offer any assistance and referred us back to British Airways. Using our phones, we tried to find alternate flights through various booking apps and different airline websites. Not surprisingly, there were no flights we could find that would put us at our destination before the cruise ship departed the next day.
Rather than fly home or try to pick up the ship at its next major port in Copenhagen, four days into the cruise, we decided to contact a charter flight company. After several hours, we arranged for a private plane to fly all of us to Bergen from an airport an hour north of Heathrow. We made it to Bergen late that day, but it cost us over $27,000 for the eight of us.
All of us had flight insurance from Allianz, which was recommended by Viking. But, because our missed connection was not caused by a traffic accident or severe weather, it denied the claim for our travel expenses. We were only given travel delay coverage, which was limited to $200 per person per day.
When we first contacted Viking, its agent assured us that the cruise line would do its best to make us whole. British Airways reimbursed Viking for the cost of the missed connection, and Viking forwarded a check for that amount to us. So far, the cost of the leg from London to Bergen, at $995 per couple, has been refunded. We’ve also filed for flight delay compensation of 250 pounds per person, which is payable under EU regulations.
We have contacted Viking customer relations several times, and each time a different representative responds to us. We all asked for a $2,500 per person credit toward our next Viking cruise, to offset the cost of the flight. A Viking agent called and offered us a $375 per person credit toward a future booking.
We all booked this cruise and paid its entire cost, which was $14,000 per couple with airfare, 16 months before the travel date. We were very reluctant to just go home. None of us wanted to pay the cost of the charter jet. It was our only option. Viking didn’t offer us any assistance. And our request is reasonable. We would welcome any thoughts or suggestions about how to resolve this issue. — Patrick Ryan, Silver Spring, Md.
Answer: This is truly an unfortunate set of circumstances. The British Airways computer outage affected thousands of people and hundreds of flights. Viking bought the tickets for you, then left you completely on your own when a problem arose. It’s inconceivable that a company like Viking Ocean Cruises, which was your travel agent, would fail to assist you. It’s shameful that the cruise line did nothing but refer you back to the airline that was in the midst of a massive system outage. Viking should have immediately begun to find alternate travel arrangements for you.
It’s understandable that you and your travel companions chose to charter a plane. You booked an expensive trip well in advance. And, when serious interruptions arose, you were essentially told by Viking and British Airways to find your own alternate travel arrangements. You did that, but neither company would pay for it.
Viking and British Airways had both fulfilled their obligations. If the airline didn’t get to your destination, you would only be entitled to a refund of that leg. If it didn’t get you there on time, you would be entitled to delay compensation under EU 261.
EU 261 is a regulation that establishes rules for help and compensation that some airlines must give to passengers on certain flights which are delayed or canceled. At the time of your flight, this regulation applied to your flight on British Airways because it ended in a European Union country on a European Union airline. EU 261 is a complex rule, and understanding how it applies to overbooked flights or delays requires a careful reading of the regulation. But, you can find answers to frequently asked questions about EU 261 on our website.
You could have posted your question to our help forums. The forums are staffed by travel industry experts and they may have had helpful suggestions about how to address this issue with the cruise line and the airline. And you could have tried escalating your complaint by contacting company executives, who may have intervened on your behalf. We list executive contact information for British Airways and Viking Cruises on our website.
Our advocates contacted Viking on your party’s behalf. Viking remained firm that it would not offer any more compensation. Its representative insisted that the majority of its 130 guests affected by the outage for your sailing were rebooked and made it to the embarkation port on time. The agent said that a small number of guests were accommodated by the airline and met the ship a day or two later. For those who joined the itinerary late, Viking said that it worked directly with the guests or their travel agents to provide compensation for the inconvenience. Viking insisted that your party made the choice to charter a private flight to Bergen without authorization from Viking, the airline, or the travel insurance provider.
At the time of your delay, it certainly seemed that neither Viking nor British Airways was doing anything to assist you. If the cruise line helped the majority of its guests get to the port on time, why didn’t it help you? We don’t know. We do know that it failed you and you paid dearly for the airline’s failure. We’re sorry that we weren’t successful in getting Viking to do more for you, and we have to file this as Case Dismissed.