After a detour to Bangor, do I deserve a ticket refund?

As SAS Flight 910 from Newark to Copenhagen climbed to its cruising altitude on June 20, one of its air conditioning units malfunctioned, forcing it to make an emergency landing in Bangor, Maine.

One of the passengers onboard, Jay Hillman, says SAS mishandled the incident from start to finish, and even though the airline flew him to Denmark the next day, he wants a full refund.

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Does he deserve it? And if so, should I help him get it?

Generally, airlines don’t compensate passengers for mechanical delays, so I was interested in hearing how this one was, as Hillman put it, “the worst flight of my life.”

After the emergency landing, passengers were sent to the Fairfield Inn in Bangor. For the next 12 hours, they heard nothing from SAS.

“It seemed we were forgotten,” says Hillman. “Finally a message came: ‘Be ready in 30 minutes to go to the airport.’ Rushing to be ready, I skipped lunch, hearing it would be served at the airport. It was not. Instead, there was a two-hour queue to get a new boarding pass, which had passengers waiting outside the terminal in the sun.”

Once onboard, things took a turn for the worse.

No one could tell me the intended departure time. We waited a couple more hours. The pilot assured us the problem was solved and the plane was safe.

Unfortunately, the air conditioner was not fixed — just disconnected. I have ridden more comfortably on buses in Mexico.

Can it get any worse? Yes, it can.

An hour into the flight the video system lost power in half the plane, and then the reading lamps failed, inspiring little confidence in the plane and leaving me with nothing to do but reflect on my destiny until dinner was served.

And then …

The woman next to me and I were stunned to find a long hair embedded in my chicken dish, because we had just said to each other this could not get any worse.

Hillman’s four-day weekend was abbreviated by one day as a result of this mechanical failure. Given the incompetence of SAS, he feels a full refund of his ticket is in order.

“I paid $1,500 for my round-trip ticket for my weekend in Copenhagen,” he says. “I spent that because SAS has always been timely, because I value a direct flight, and because I trust the SAS team’s pilots. I lost one of my three days on holiday to a miserable and disorganized voyage.”

The SAS contract of carriage (PDF) is confusing on this issue. Section 9.3.3. notes that for a delay of over five hours, you may be entitled to a full refund of your ticket, but that appears to be referencing the controversial EU 261 consumer regulation, which SAS would argue doesn’t apply to this flight.

Here’s how SAS responded to him.

Thank you for your correspondence regarding an irregularity experienced while traveling with SAS.

Due to the technical malfunction on board SK910/20JUN it was decided to perform safety landing at the nearest airport, which was in Bangor, Maine.

It is always our aim to minimize the strain and consequences imposed on our passengers when an irregularity occurs. Please accept our apologies for any lapse in service on this occasion.

We certainly regret that your travel plans were disrupted. Your disappointment and inconvenience is understandable. We, again, offer our sincere apologies.

As a gesture of good will, and to show our concern, under separate coverage we will be sending you gift vouchers in the amount of 300EUR. These vouchers are good for travel on SAS flights only and are valid for one year from the date of issue.

We value your patronage, and hope we shall have another opportunity of welcoming you aboard SAS again in the future and of serving you to your full satisfaction.

SAS remains at your service.

A 300 euro voucher? Not enough, says Hillman.

The more I consider this case, the more I think Hillman should argue that EU 261 applies to this mechanical delay. I note that the SAS definition of “extraordinary circumstances” is not in line with the most current definition as defined by the EU courts. There might be some room for negotiation.

But I don’t know if the laundry-list approach is as compelling, and I’m not sure if my involvement would change anything. But I would be willing to try, if you think it’s worth pursuing.