We chartered a flight to make our cruise on time. Why won’t Viking make us whole?

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Diane Perera

Diane and her family love to travel, and they do so as much as they can. Having experienced the downside of travel, and having learned so much from Elliott.org, led Diane to become an advocate and to help fight the good fight.

  • SirWIred

    $375 a head FCC seems a little skimpy, but $2,500 each seems more than a bit much. Yes, it sucks to miss cruise days, but just because you’ve found a really expensive way to solve a problem doesn’t put the travel company on the hook to pay for it.

    And was Copenhagen truly the only place they could have re-joined? Were there not ways to get transport to earlier ports? Maybe not direct flights, but a flight and a train trip could have worked… (Trip Insurance companies have entire departments staffed with people that solve these problems; my experience with TravelGuard’s reps anyway has been quite good.)

  • ArizonaRoadWarrior

    “The airline posted signs advising passengers to leave the airport and to try to find alternate travel arrangements from a different location.”
    Does the OP have pictures of these signs?

    “One of our party called Viking, but it couldn’t offer any assistance and referred us back to British Airways.”
    Did that person made a recording of the call? I won’t trust hearsay from another person especially given the amount of the cruise.

    “When we first contacted Viking, its agent assured us that the cruise line would do its best to make us whole.”
    Does the OP have a recording of this conversation? Does the OP have the name of this person? Did the OP requested the agent to send them an e-mail stating the promise of the agent?

    “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.”
    Unless I read the article incorrectly, that what is seems to me that the OP and his ‘party’ took matters into their hands.

  • Hanope

    So the insurance only covered a traffic accident or severe weather? But not other potential delays, including mechanical or computer problems. That’s a pretty sucky policy, imo.

    I wonder if the party thought about trying to get a flight out from a different airport in Britain and either hiring a car or taking the train to the other airport?

    The party said the next ‘major port’ was Copenhagen, 4 days from the cruise start, but Viking said some passengers met the ships 1 or 2 days after start. Why couldn’t the party have met the ship 1 day later?

    I do think this is a big fail by Viking since they acted as the travel agent. Viking should have stepped up and rebooked the party and not just tell them to deal with BA, which was having major problems. I think the request by the party for a voucher for a future cruise was very reasonable, considering the price of Viking’s cruises. At the minimum, they could have countered with a $2,000 or even a $1,500 voucher. Very poor customer service by Viking.

  • Noah Kimmel

    First, I agree that Viking, Allianz, and BA shouldn’t have left the customer in a lurch. All 3 had a responsibility to try to find alternatives. BA was overwhelmend and unlikely to be of much help, but Allianz / Viking should have been clear about what costs they would reimburse and which they won’t and help get the customers to the ship or to the next port of call. Missing any time on board is a shame, but there would be good recourse to get reimbursed or future credits. Also, for any insurance claim, better to work with the provider from the start so expectations are clear.

    I am not sure I know of any policy that would cover a private charter. Keeping in mind that the trip is $7000 per person, the original airfare segment was $1000 per person, and that the charter was ~$3500 per seat, it isn’t too outrageous, but it is outside the norm. I can see why asking for $2500 as a credit would sound reasonable to the customer. It is the 3500 – 1000 reimbursement. Sadly, I don’t expect a company to offer that much money though. A few hundred dollars maybe, perhaps future credits if they missed a day or two, but this seems high. $375 is stingy if you divide the cost of the trip per day. I wish there was a reasonable middle ground here in the ~$1000 future credit range.

    Sounds like one of those cases where the OP went out on their own and got screwed by thinking companies would be generous vs meet the minimum commitments required. Sadly, in 2017, you can only rely on companies to do the minimum.

  • Kevin Nash

    Norwegian Air has two non-stop flights from London to Bergen that run about less than $100 USD. SAS also flies regularly between London to Bergen with a connection as does KLM.

    I fail to see how OP could not have availed themselves of those options instead of deciding that chartering a private flight was their only way to reach Bergen.

  • Kerr

    That sounds reasonable, but maybe those flights were sold out or had already departed for the day?

  • Kerr

    The OP says they missed their original connection. Was that due to the computer issue? Or was their first flight delayed for a different reason?

  • John Baker

    Even an insurance claim would have to be a reasonable expense. I wouldn’t call chartering a flight as a reasonable expense. Buying another scheduled flight, reasonable. Chartering an aircraft, not so much.

  • BubbaJoe123

    Given the BA meltdown, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if all other options were booked.

  • BubbaJoe123

    So, the charter flight cost $27k for eight people, or $3,375 each. They’ve been refunded $500 per person by Viking, they got $200 per person in travel insurance benefits, and they’re getting around $325 per person in EU 261 compensation. That comes up to $1025 coming back to them. So, why are they asking for $2,500 per person in credit? Rounding up from the $2350 they’re currently out, I guess?

    I could see asking for around $500 extra, since a one-way refundable business class ticket LHR-BGO is around $500, but asking for the full cost of a private jet seems a bit much.

    Note that I only think Viking owes them anything because Viking was the agent for these flights, which puts Viking on the hook.

  • Michael__K

    Does the OP have pictures of these signs?

    Are public news media reports good enough for you?

    Passengers have been ordered to exit airport terminals without their baggage, with some travellers claiming they had been told it could take a week for them to be given their bags back.

    Since you don’t trust “hearsay.” then why no demand for proof from Viking to corroborate their side of the story? Such as their claims that they re-booked most of their passengers to embark on time and that a “small number of guests were accommodated by the airline and met the ship a day or two later.?”

  • Harvey-6-3.5

    As a customer, if the OPs reports are correct, I would also have felt compelled to make my $14,000 cruise with an expenditure that was only a 20% increase in costs, so I blame Viking here for failing to assist, and they should step up with a decent offer. Also, if the travel insurance was through Viking, I am even less sympathetic to the company.

    However, it would be interesting to know what the Viking agent said. There is a shuttle from London to Bergen on another airline, as well as a few other flights. I also wonder if there would have been a way to fly to Oslo and take a train, or other arrangments.

  • Michael__K

    And when there are no scheduled flights available to purchase for multiple days because the dominant local carrier has grounded all its flights because of a catastrophic IT failure — and can’t even re-book their passengers because of this failure– and passengers queue up for 3 hours just to LEAVE the airport, what’s reasonable then?

    I don’t know that chartering a flight was the best option available, but I can’t say which better options were actually available at the time and you can’t either.

    Anyway, the insurance claim would fail anyway, reasonable expense or not, because as explained in the article the IT meltdown is not a Covered Reason.

  • Michael__K

    Per the article, the OP checked these options, and:

    Not surprisingly, there were no flights we could find that would put us at our destination before the cruise ship departed the next day.

  • BubbaJoe123

    It was actually almost a 50% increase in costs. The cruise was $14k per couple. The flight was $6750 per couple.

  • Michael__K

    It’s the purpose of EC 261 Article 9 (Right to Care) compensation is to make passengers whole. The Article 7 compensation (250 EUR in this case — I believe the article incorrectly references GBP) is expressly to compensate for inconvenience and to penalize carriers and induce them to take all reasonable measures to avoid these delays and cancellations.
    It’s still real money, but I don’t think that the Article 9 compensation should necessarily offset Viking’s obligations in the same way as their refund of the cancelled flight segment or the insurance claim for Travel Delay.

  • John Baker

    Michael … Trains every hour from London to Paris. Multiple connecting flights to Bergen from there.

  • Michael__K

    Yes, if there is last minute space available for 8 passengers on a holiday weekend after they spend 3+ hours just exiting the airport (as reported by British media at the time).
    I don’t rule out that there might have been more reasonable options, but it’s too easy to second guess the passengers who found themselves in an absurd situation and who tried to go through the normal channels and were turned away:

    “One of our party called Viking, but it couldn’t offer any assistance and referred us back to British Airways”

  • Annie M

    Viking has one of the worst reputations in the travel industry as far as customer service in helping guests when things go wrong. If the air was booked through them, THEY should have helped these people find new flights not left them on their own. Unfortunately, I find it hard to believe that there wasn’t another airline that could have gotten them to the port in time (assuming they did they were flying in the day before the cruise was leaving).

    I still fault Viking for not helping these people when they booked the air, but there were other alternatives. Next time – use another cruise line. There are so many out there that provide better customer service.

  • ArizonaRoadWarrior

    When I submit a request for a refundcreditcorrectionetc, I submit all of the necessary documentssupporting itemsetc because people today are busy, lazy, etc. to look up the information. I would have submitted pictures of the sign not a link because a person has to click on it to read. I never except a customer service reps 1) to go above and behind (it is great when they do); 2) to except them to know the whole situation without having all of the facts; 3) to except CSRs to come with the same conclusions.

    The article didn’t disclosed that the party of 8 were family, friends, acquaintances or business associates. I read the article that the 8 were ‘strangers’ (i.e. Steve Martin and John Candy in the movie, Planes Trains Automobiles). Based upon my experiences and the amount of money involved, personally I won’t have relied upon a person that I don’t have a clue about himher. Therefore, my point was that the OP shouldn’t have relied on a completely stranger in regards to “One of our party called Viking, but it couldn’t offer any assistance and referred us back to British Airways.”…I would have called Viking to reconfirm. By the way, if I don’t like the answer when it contradicts their website or don’t like the attitude of the CSR, etc…I will call back until I get someone that knows how to do their job.

    We had our luggage ‘misplaced’ by airlines…one time being British Airways…when we had travel insurance. The first thing that I did was to call the insurance company to report that our luggage was ‘misplaced’ and to review the time line, the claim process, how much can we spend, etc.

    Hearsay: information received from other people (not the source) that one cannot adequately substantiate.

    Viking told one person in the party of 8 that they couldn’t offer any assistance…the other seven heard the information second-hand…they can’t confirm that what they were told by the one person was exactly what the Viking CSR said.

    Viking told Elliott’s people DIRECTLY that they re-booked most of their passengers to embark on time’ that a “small number of guests were accommodated by the airline and met the ship a day or two later and was made whole; therefore, this isn’t hearsay since it was direct and the information was from a third-party. Yes…Viking could be lying about this but that is not hearsay.

  • ArizonaRoadWarrior

    There are some travel insurance policies that will cover any delay of a common carrier.

    Travel Delay reimburses the costs of meals and accommodations when a trip is unexpected delayed. In addition to covering meals and hotels, many policies with the Travel Delay benefit can reimburse unused prepaid and non-refundable trip costs, and some can cover the additional costs a traveler incurs to catch up to their destination, or to return home. Coverage under the Travel Delay benefit begins after a minimum number of hours, typically 3, 6, or 12. The most common covered reasons for Travel Delay are inclement weather or a mechanical breakdown of a common carrier.

    The key for a travel insurance policy is to read the details and a choose a policy that will cover what you need on your trip.

  • ArizonaRoadWarrior

    I agree with you about the reputation of Viking.

    Also, I agree with you that Viking dropped the ball by not helping these eight people. However, one thing that ‘bothers’ me, if the statement of “we got everyone to the cruise on time and we made whole everyone that was one or two days late” from Viking is true what happen to this party of 8?

    Only one person from the group of 8 contacted Viking and we don’t know anything about this person like was he pushing for the private charter. If all eight called and were told to pound sand and contact British Airways than I believe that Viking dropped the ball on this group of 8.

  • ArizonaRoadWarrior

    When we do international cruises or tours, we arrive three to five days early. This give us some time to check out the departure city as well as time to handle airline issues (delays, lost luggage, etc.).

  • ArizonaRoadWarrior

    I totally agree…if you drive a Toyota Camry and someone hit you…you can’t rent a Lexus LS 460 and expect the other party’s insurance company (or your insurance company) to pay for it.

  • Michael__K

    From the article:

    Eight of us booked a Viking Ocean Cruise, sailing from Bergen, Norway.[…]We all booked this cruise and paid its entire cost, which was $14,000 per couple with airfare, 16 months before the travel date.

    Clearly these are 8 passengers who knew each other well enough to plan and book a long and expensive international trip together 16 months in advance…

    Not sure why you would assume the customers left out any relevant documentation in their correspondence. Especially since Viking’s rebuf didn’t cite any inadequacies with the passengers documentation.


    “Viking told Elliott’s people DIRECTLY that they re-booked most of their passengers to embark on time’ that a “small number of guests were accommodated by the airline and met the ship a day or two later and was made whole; therefore, this isn’t hearsay since it was direct and the information was from a third-party.”

    So you’re certain that the Viking representative who replied to the advocates had direct first hand knowledge of every affected passenger and how they were accommodated? As opposed to relying on and summarizing second or third-hand representations from their colleagues?

  • BubbaJoe123

    Fair point.

  • Alan Gore

    Because Viking arranged the air connections, it was bound to accept total responsibility for getting pax to the cruise in the best possible time. This might have meant missed cruise days, because it’s seldom possible to delay a ship’s departure from port, but it should be bound to make its customers whole with whatever refunds or extensions that might take. In ‘referring’ passengers to British instead of helping its passengers, Viking opened itself up to being liable for the expensive charter option. It should be forced to cough up every cent, and take it as a warning not to treat its customers so rudely next time.

  • cscasi

    Or, not?

  • jim6555

    I’ve been told the same thing about Viking by my Cruise Travel Agent. He explained to me that he avoids booking on Viking whenever possible. One of his big gripes is that on river cruises, Viking charges passengers extra for amenities that are provided free by Viking’s competitors.

  • Daddydo

    Obviously they did not have a travel agent to call. This is where agents excel. 1) There are 3 airports in London; 1 of them would have probably gotten them to the ship in time. They had insurance and unless it was a crappy company, they had a 24 hour emergency / concierge number. It is as important to review the insurance policy as it is to know how to purchase a trip.That is why you buy insurance. Travel guard would have instantly re-booked them with an alternate flight, started a claim, and “we made the cruise”.
    PANIC! Charter a private plane? Do not panic when something goes south. Use the tools that are available. Insurance, 24 hour agency assistance, additional pressure on Viking for assistance.
    Last word of advise is: NEVER NEVER NEVER count on the airline to get you to where and when you want to be there. You spent so much money on this trip. Why didn’t you travel a day early?

  • Hanope

    That is true. But the vast majority of the time, the passenger will be offered a policy by the trip planner, Viking in this case, and the passenger won’t have the information to research the policy, they will just assume the insurance policy is good or it wouldn’t have been offered. The passenger won’t know that they can reject that insurance and get their own. I wouldn’t be surprised if the passenger is told that if they accept the policy being offered “right now” they’ll get a “discount.”

  • joycexyz

    Agreed. And I’d like to add…if the Viking rep you spoke with was unhelpful (referring you back to British Air?), I would have asked to speak with a supervisor.

  • joycexyz

    Seems to me that Viking would have found a way to get them to the ship, but maybe not at the originating port, had they been given the opportunity. That’s their responsibility. But it also seems to me the OP and his companions either didn’t give Viking a chance or didn’t like missing a port, so they jumped the gun by chartering a flight without authorization.

  • joycexyz

    You last paragraph says it all!

  • BubbaJoe123

    Really, we don’t know what Viking would have done. Presumably, if, when called, Viking had said “sorry about the BA cancellation, we can rebook you on a flight tomorrow to FirstCruiseStopCity, though, so you’ll only miss one day, and we’ll refund you XXX% of your $14k (where xxx% is 1/numberofcruisedays),” then this wouldn’t have been an issue. Clearly, though, they didn’t do that.

  • Fred

    You are entitled to a rental car to replace the damage (no operational) car. If you are entitled to the rental car NOW and the only car available is the Lexus. You get the Lexus. And the insurance company should address the “value” difference. Not you.

  • The Original Joe S

    Well, here’s a lesson on what outfit not to use……

  • SierraRose 49

    We’ve taken 2 Viking cruises. Both were excellent. But thank goodness we used a travel agent, because there were problems that he fixed prior to our cruises. He does not like Viking and found the reps to be extremely difficult in so many ways. My major problem with Viking is that we booked 9-12 months in advance on both cruises and they wanted ALL their money shortly after booking.

  • Annie M

    Exactly. Of all the river cruise lines, Viking includes the least in what you pay.

    The other lines don’t advertise so many people don’t know there are probably 30 or more river cruise lines to choose from. And almost all of them have more inclusions than Viking and don’t make you pay in full at the time of booking when they offer specials.

    Why give Viking payment in full a year or more before you are sailing? If the line suddenly went out of business for some odd reason you are screwed.

  • Travelnut

    I just checked prices from London to Bergen departing tomorrow, and it was about £250. Of course, as Michael points out, alternate flights could have been booked solid by time. As a last ditch effort, I might have caught the Eurostar train to Paris and flown from there. That actually might have gotten them to Bergen on time, but definitely to Copenhagen (or as others have mentioned, find a way to get to intermediate ports of call by train or bus).

  • J M

    One of there comments also says it all:

    “Not surprisingly, there were no flights we could find that would put us at our destination before the cruise ship departed the next day.”

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