When Yangna Li tried to drop her parents off at London’s Heathrow airport for their flight back to Xi’an City, China, she encountered an unexpected obstacle: A fatal accident on the motorway and a closed road.
As a result, her parents were late for their flight.
“The Air China staff showed no mercy or compassion but insisted us to pay additional £1,110 for amending the tickets for a later flight on the same day,” she says. “I had no choice but to pay.”
Now, most airlines have what’s called a “flat tire” rule that allows ticket agents to rebook you on a future flight at no charge, as long as there’s space available.
“I sent a complaint along with a long list of supporting documents,” she says. After some back-and-forth, her parents received the following response from Air China:
We were sorry to hear that your parents have experienced difficulties on the way to the airport.
We try to help resolve such matters in the best possible way, although we understand the delay was caused by the unforeseen circumstances, we do have to follow procedures and policies.
However, after investigating your claim with our reservation team and airport office, we notice our ground handling agent has overcharged you due to fare calculation error, we now refund you the amount your parents have been overcharged and waived NOSHOW fee (GBP100) as a goodwill gesture, which is GBP239 /per person in total.
We regret we are not able to offer anything further, we would suggest the passengers to make a personal claim with their insurance company for the extra amount they have paid.
That’s not enough for her. “My parents’ travel insurance policy only covers flights delays over 5 hours,” she says.
As I reviewed Li’s correspondence with Air China, it became clear that the agents at Heathrow were not following the standard industry protocol. When passengers can’t make a flight because of a traffic accident, you don’t charge them an extra £1,110. You don’t charge them a “NOSHOW fee” — whatever that is.
You let them on the next flight.
The question is: Does Air China have a “flat tire” rule and was it not being followed? Or does it, indeed, stick it to passengers who miss a flight due to circumstances beyond their control?
I have asked Air China to clarify. So far, no response.
Cases like this really make my blood boil. Air China’s one-sided airline contract gives the carrier room to cancel your flight or reroute you for almost any reason, with minimal repercussions. But if you try to do the same, you’re handed a £1,110 bill.
Isn’t it time airlines extended us the same courtesy that we extend to them?