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

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By Christopher Elliott

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.

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

Generally, airlines don’t provide compensation for mechanical delays, so I was interested in hearing how this one, as Hillman put it, became “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 they forgot about us,” says Hillman. “Finally, we received a message: ‘Be ready in 30 minutes to go to the airport.’ Rushing to prepare, I skipped lunch, expecting it to be served at the airport.”. It was not. Instead, there was a two-hour queue to get a new boarding pass. Passengers had to wait 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.

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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.

SAS mechanical failure cuts short weekend getaway

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. Unfortunately, I lost one of my three days on holiday to a miserable and disorganized voyage.” (Related: BoltBus didn’t get us to New York on time — can we get a refund?)

The SAS contract of carriage (PDF) is confusing on this issue. Section 9.3.3. notes that if a delay exceeds five hours, passengers may be entitled to a full refund of their ticket. However, SAS would argue that this provision references the controversial EU 261 consumer regulation, which they claim doesn’t apply to this flight. (Related: SAS lost all of our luggage, all 10 bags.)

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. (Here’s how to get a refund on a nonrefundable airline ticket.)

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.

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter. He is based in Panamá City.

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