A canceled British Airways flight to London and confusing claim

After Vueling cancels John McDonnell’s flight, he tries to file a claim for compensation. But wait! British Airways issued his ticket. So who should pay?

Question: My companion and I had confirmed reservations on a British Airways flight operated by Vueling Airlines, from Florence to London earlier this year. When we arrived at the airport in Florence in plenty of time for the 2:05 p.m. flight, an airline representative told us we might not be permitted to board the flight or that it might be canceled because wind conditions restricted the number of passengers the plane could accommodate and might prevent the plane from taking off.

After a wait of over five hours with no information being given to us and the other frustrated passengers by the extremely rude Vueling personnel, the flight was canceled. Vueling gave us a choice of flying to London the next day via Madrid or claiming compensation for denied boarding. We chose the latter option and were given a one-page form explaining “passengers’ rights.”

Because I had purchased our tickets from British Airways, I then submitted a claim to the airline for compensation provided of €250 for each of us.

British Airways rejected the claim because it says it didn’t operate the flight. So I submitted the claim to Vueling Airlines. But Vueling rejected the case because it was a British Airways flight.

I have had not heard from British Airways in response to subsequent messages demanding action from them and pointing out that payment for the tickets had been made to British Airways. Can you help? — John McDonnell, Lafayette, Calif.

Answer: Under EU 261, the European airline consumer protection regulation, you’re entitled to real money for your delayed flight. You can find out more about EU 261 and how it’s applied on my consumer advocacy site.

Related story:   Lost and found on Vueling

Your case became needlessly complicated because British Airways sold you the ticket but Vueling operated the flight. But both airlines are owned by the same company, International Airlines Group, so what does it matter? Normally, the airline that sells you the ticket and takes your money would also assume responsibility for any claims, including an EU 261-related grievance. But something wasn’t clicking here.

In airline parlance, this is called code-sharing, even though both airlines have the same parent company. I’ve seen other airlines do this, but rarely when they share an owner. Air carriers want all the benefits of code-sharing — sharing resources, information and not having to compete — but none of the responsibility. British Airways and Vueling were bouncing your case between each other, apparently hoping you would give up and go home. I’m glad you didn’t.

You can always appeal your case to someone higher up at these airlines. I list the names, numbers and email addresses for both British Airways and Vueling on my consumer advocacy site.

The short-term fix is to contact both airlines on your behalf, which I did. I’ll share the results in a minute. But the long-term solution is to abolish these anti-competitive and anti-consumer codesharing exemptions. Make airlines take full responsibility for the flights they sell and operate — just like the rest of the world.

I contacted Vueling, and it processed your claim for the full amount.

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.

  • deemery

    ” Make airlines take full responsibility for the flights they sell and operate — just like the rest of the world. ”

    Ok, but which side should ultimately be responsible, the airline that issued the ticket, or the airline that operated the flight? I don’t disagree with the end result, which is to make -someone- responsible. I’m just not sure which way the law/regulation should be written.

    The accountant would probably argue “The airline that took the money should make it right.” I’m not a lawyer, but I suspect the lawyer would say, “Your contract is with the issuing airline, not the operating airline.”

  • Dan

    Code-sharing should be no different than sub-contracting in any industry. The company you buy the services from should be responsible to the customer all the way through regardless of who is providing the service. Baggage services at most airports/airlines are sub-contracted, yet when a ‘United’ baggage handler damages your bag, you submit a claim to United – they don’t point you to Acme Baggage Services Inc. to file your claim.

  • SirWired

    I thought the EC 261 regulations were pretty clear that the operating airline was responsible for all EC 261 related compensation. (While a fare refund would come from the marketing airline.)

  • BubbaJoe123

    They are clear.


    “In some cases the airline operating the flight may not be the same as the one from which you bought your ticket. In case of any difficulties only the airline which operates the flight can be held responsible.”

  • SirWired

    The marketing airline is responsible for fare refunds in the case of a cancelled flight. For difficulties that arise in transit (like overnight hotel stays, EC 261 compensation, etc.) the operating airline is responsible. This is for the simple reason that in many cases, the marketing airline won’t even have somebody in that airport capable of doing things like providing hotel vouchers, etc.

  • Alan Gore

    Codeshares can be convenient for accumulating loyalty points and planning itineraries. Unfortunately, they also offer lazy, uncaring gate crew an opportunity to pass the buck when trouble occurs. Instead of banning codeshares, let’s have legislation that specifies which carrier is responsible for exactly what in a codesharing relationship.

  • SirWired

    EC 261 does specify that the operating carrier is responsible for any compensation related to that regulation. Vueling was incorrect to pass the buck to BA here for anything but a ticket refund.

  • deemery

    That makes sense, and follows with the logic that it’s the airline that handles your arrival that is responsible for getting your delayed bag to you.

  • Michael__K

    “Normally, the airline that sells you the ticket and takes your money would also assume responsibility for any claims, including an EU 261-related grievance. “

    This is wrong. Straight from the text of the regulation:

    Article 4
    3. If boarding is denied to passengers against their will, the operating air carrier shall immediately compensate them in accordance with Article 7 and assist them in accordance with Articles 8 and 9.
    (b) “operating air carrier” means an air carrier that performs or intends to perform a flight under a contract with a passenger or on behalf of another person, legal or natural, having a contract with that passenger;

  • Michael__K

    The text of the regulation unequivocally puts the full responsibility on the “operating air carrier.”

  • joycexyz

    Unfortunately, logic and sense have nothing to do with it. So, it’s pass the buck time and the old game of “delay, delay and hope you’ll go away.”

  • Bill

    I think we all agree there is some grey here. Maybe instead of assuming the worst of the people managing this, we could give them a little credit? Sure, they “could” do more, but to be fair, BA had nothing to do with the decision or reality of the flight being cancelled, so why would their employee cut a check? And Vueling had no financial relationship with the claimant, so why would their employee authorize money to go out? It is NOT as simple as that, and that is no solution to the customer, I agree. But nor is it fair to jump to the conclusion/assumption that all (or any!) of the employees are sitting back “passing the buck” and “hoping you’ll go away”.

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