Can she get compensation for her delayed Icelandair flight?

When Chieh-Chen Bowen and her husband sought EC 261 compensation for their delayed Icelandair flight, the airline froze them out. And that was just the tip of the iceberg of their problems with Icelandair.

By the time Bowen contacted our advocates, she’d been waiting a month for Icelandair to refund an erroneous checked bag fee. Then their Icelandair flight was delayed, causing the Bowens to miss a connection. They flew into their destination nearly seven hours after their originally scheduled arrival time.

But as you’re about to read, Bowen mishandled her case by taking an aggressive tone in her communications with Icelandair. We always advise abiding by the three P’s of consumer advocacy: patience, politeness and persistence. Had Bowen done so, Icelandair might have responded to her much sooner — without her having to contact us for help.

Off to a bad start at check-in

Bowen and her husband, William, booked round-trip flights from Cleveland to Frankfurt, Germany, via Reykjavik, Iceland, on Icelandair. Their online confirmation showed that they could check one bag free of charge. But Icelandair’s counter agent informed them at check-in that they would have to pay $95 for both of their bags. The Bowens complained about the baggage charge to the Cleveland airport manager, who was not affiliated with Icelandair. Unfortunately, he turned out to be the wrong person to receive passenger complaints about airline customer service problems.

The airport manager told the Bowens that the clerk was inexperienced and had incorrectly assessed the baggage charge. He promised to have the charge reversed and gave the Bowens his contact information. But Icelandair did not reverse the charge. When William Bowen called the airport manager to follow up, he responded that he could do nothing for the Bowens.

A delayed Icelandair flight, but no EC 261 compensation

Then the Bowens’ Icelandair flight was delayed in Cleveland, causing them to miss their connection in Reykjavik. Icelandair placed the Bowens on a Lufthansa flight to Frankfurt. The Lufthansa flight arrived in Frankfurt six hours and 55 minutes after the Bowens’ delayed Icelandair flight.

According to EC 261, passengers on flights of more than 3,500 kilometers delayed by four hours or more are entitled to 600 euros ($689).

Bowen wrote to our primary contact for Icelandair to request the baggage charge refund and the EC 261 compensation for her delayed flight. But she received no response to her request for help.

The wrong way to request assistance for a delayed Icelandair flight

Bowen then escalated her case by writing the following to our secondary contact for Icelandair:

I hope that you care enough about customer experience to make it right for us. Please read the message below describing our experience. We could become frequent travelers between Cleveland and [Reykjavik] or we will refuse to book another flight on Icelandair and post our review on the internet. It all depends on how our complaint is handled by Icelandair’s executives like you who have the authority to make the right decisions.

Bowen’s frustration with Icelandair’s silence is understandable. But her hostile tone and threats of boycotts and bad publicity nearly guaranteed inaction from the airline. Icelandair has nothing to gain by offering assistance to an angry passenger who refuses to fly again.

Thawing Icelandair’s deep freeze

Icelandair’s terms and conditions indicate that “The passenger may carry some baggage free of charge” and that “The passenger will be required to pay a charge for carriage of baggage in excess of the free baggage allowance.” These provisions may have caused the counter agent’s confusion over the baggage charge. The terms and conditions also provide that “In case of a flight cancellation or flight delay Carrier offers assistance and compensation to the concerned passengers according to the Regulation EC 261/2004.”

After several months of silence from Icelandair, Bowen finally contacted the Elliott Advocacy team to ask for help in securing her refund and EC 261 compensation. Our advocate, Dwayne Coward, reached out to Icelandair on her behalf.

Our Icelandair contact informed Dwayne that the airport manager to whom the Bowens spoke was not affiliated with Icelandair. The airline had never received their baggage fee claim. But the airline notified Dwayne and Bowen that it would immediately issue the baggage fee refund and their EC 261 compensation.

Bowen’s case should remind consumers to observe the three P’s — patience, persistence, politeness — however frustrated they feel by a business’s lack of assistance. Write to our executive contacts, first to the primary contact. If you don’t get a satisfactory response within a week, then escalate to the next contact. And maintain a cooperative, courteous tone in your correspondence. If you do, you raise the likelihood that business will come out of the cold to assist you.

Have you ever complained about a customer service issue to the wrong person? Were you able to follow up with the correct person and resolve your issue?

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