Persistence pays off for this Aer Lingus delay

One delay of Nora Rousso’s Aer Lingus flight from Paris to Dublin leads to another, and now her return flight is delayed an entire day. Is she entitled to any compensation?

Question: My daughter and I were booked on an Aer Lingus flight from Paris to San Francisco via Dublin last year. Our flight from Paris was delayed — due to fog, we were told — and even though we arrived 15 to 20 minutes before the scheduled departure of our connection, we were told that the flight had “already departed.”

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An Aer Lingus representative told us to go downstairs and “get sorted out.” We waited in a horrendous line for seven hours. I’m not exaggerating.

When we finally got to speak to an agent, we were told that the flight the next day was “full.” I don’t believe that this was true, because while in line I checked the flight online and there were still tickets, albeit in business class.

An agent confirmed this but said we could not have these tickets because they “had to be kept open.” They ended up putting us on a flight the next day to Boston, where we had a stopover of five hours, so we did not arrive until 10 p.m. Saturday night. Our scheduled arrival time was 3:30 p.m.

I also was out of my medication and told Aer Lingus that I had to get home. The gate snottily said, “Oh, perhaps you’d like to skip this flight too and go to the hospital?”

I personally believe they overbooked the flight and did not want to treat us as bumped, because then they would have had to compensate us. The agent at the gate in Boston told me to contact Aer Lingus, which I am trying to do, but I am also exploring all channels for help in this regard. I do not fault them for the initial delay but I do fault them for what happened after that. — Nora Rousso, Los Gatos, Calif.

Answer: You’re right, Aer Lingus’ initial delay, caused by weather, was not its fault. But what happened afterwards — the denied boarding, the seven-hour wait, the one-day delay — well, let’s just say the airline could have done a little better. OK, a lot better.

It looks like you fought the good fight for compensation from Aer Lingus, but you made two mistakes. First, you asked for compensation without citing any rules under which Aer Lingus would be required to compensate you; and second, you were very persistent — borderline pushy.

Next time you run into a problem like this, remember to cite any rules under which the airline is required to help you. For a domestic flight, check out the airline contract of carriage, the legal agreement between you and the airline. In Europe, there’s also a regulation called EU 261, which requires airlines to compensate customers in the event of a long flight delay. When you contacted Aer Lingus, you cited its contract of carriage but not EU 261. Also bear in mind that brief, polite emails work best, even when you’re upset — actually, especially when you’re upset. Angry, threatening missives are routinely ignored, even when they contain absolutely valid requests.

And your request, simply put, was valid. Little did you know that EU 261 applied to one of your delays, which I discovered when I contacted Aer Lingus on your behalf. I think you could have appealed to an executive at Aer Lingus and achieved the same result, as long as you knew what to ask for and as long as you asked for it in the right way.

Aer Lingus said it was “very disappointed” to hear about your flight experience and cut you two checks for $647 under EU 261, as well as $113 for your additional expenses — an outcome with which you are happy.

23 thoughts on “Persistence pays off for this Aer Lingus delay

  1. Other businesses help customers in trouble because a reputation for service builds long-term loyalty. Airlines do it if they are forced to do so by regulation, and if a complaining customer can cite the specific law. Got it.

    1. It’s a ‘positive feedback loop’. Airlines tell us consumers only care about price, so they do everything to lower their costs and advertise the lowest price. But they also provide us with NO OTHER ALTERNATIVE than price, i.e. no differentiation in “service”. So that’s why consumers only look at price, because there’s nothing else to consider.

      1. And airlines are lying with that claim. I keep hearing from people who are more concerned with getting there trouble-free than getting the lowest possible price. And when I shop for flights, I never see the super low fares claimed anyway. Those must represent limited availability specials that never apply to flights I actually want to take.

        1. I firmly believe those fares must be to places like Boise or Indianapolis or some other place with a (relatively) small population that attracts few tourists.

          1. On the contrary, I have found fares to smaller cities are higher! It costs more to fly from Greensboro NC to Boston via Charlotte than it does to fly from Charlotte nonstop.

          2. True, but most likely because you are flying two legs (equals more miles) as opposed to one direct.

    2. I agree with you 100%, don’t get me wrong.

      But I think it’s also fair to point out that a large portion of consumers have repeatedly shown that they will put up with total b.s. to save a relatively small amount of money. Walmart is a great example. They get plenty of deserved criticism for trearing their employees like crap, they consistently have lines that are 20-30 minutes long despite less than a quarter of the available checkouts being open, and (while I admit I rarely set foot in one) it’s always filthy and a cess pit inside.

      Add on top of that all of the living wage jobs they have pushed out of this country, through both shutting down small business and sourcing products from countries that exploit labor (sweatshops, child labor, factories in countries with no safety regulations for workers that literally die trying to make poverty wages, etc). It isn’t like it’s a big secret. But people still choose to shop there. They want the cheapest product, they want it now, and they don’t care about the long term economic effects of that decision. The customers that frequent Walmart are also likely to be the very ones they’re exploiting. People that make more than $10/hour can afford not to shop there, while workers living below the poverty line often genuinely can’t afford not to.

      I’m not saying it’s an easy problem or it has an easy answer. Just pointing out that the majority of consumers have chosen over and over again to make their decision based on the rock bottom price and I do think the airlines are responding to that trend. I also think they’ve finally pushed it a bit too far, and it’s coming back to bite them. The media has been broadcasting how awful air travel can be, and it’s reached critical mass.

      1. In no way do I defend the way Walmart treats its employees, but, customers are generally oblivious to that and don’t directly observe that (and nor do they observe directly how the airlines treat their employees).
        What they see, mostly unlike airlines, are customer-facing policies which are actually pretty good. For example, Walmart’s return policy is flexible and forgiving, generally moreso than many of the small businesses they’ve put out of business.
        The difference between every-day-retail and airlines is that while people shop regularly and frequently, most people fly only on rare occasions. And the passengers who fly the same carrier frequently will quickly get special perks and VIP treatment in stark contrast with the experience an infrequent leisure flyer gets.

  2. “Our flight from Paris was delayed — due to fog, we were told — and even though we arrived 15 to 20 minutes before the scheduled departure of our connection, we were told that the flight had “already departed.” … “I personally believe they overbooked the flight and did not want to treat us as bumped, because then they would have had to compensate us.”

    Well, I won’t say Aer Lingus did everything right in this case, but I do think there’s no support for the idea that the flight was overbooked. An international flight closes the door much sooner than a domestic one, so being at the gate fifteen minutes before departure isn’t good enough.

    That said, I REALLY wish airlines would use the “door closing” time as their “large-print” time in the itineraries. It doesn’t matter to the passenger what time the plane is pulling away from the gate; what matters is when the passenger can’t get on-board any more. The pushback time is useful for airline operational statistics and planning, but passengers? Not so much.

    1. Some airlines are now putting the door closing time in bold on boarding passes, but this is for the printed document and isn’t done by all airlines.

    2. I do think there’s no support for the idea that the flight was overbooked

      If the flight was not overbooked, you would think they would have waited every possible minute for the OP to board and given them priority over standby passengers who would not be owed EU261 compensation.

      It could be they were deluged with delayed passengers who would be owed compensation if they didn’t get on the flight (hence the 7 hour wait in line for re-booking).

      1. International flights close the flight at the upper end of an airline’s range because of the vastly-increased paperwork requirements. Aer Lingus publishes 30 minutes gate-presentation for all flights departing from Ireland/UK/Europe. “15 to 20 minutes before departure” (especially for a flight to the US) to me sounds like well past “every possible minute.”

        1. And yet, when we fly we see people board the aircraft later than that all the time, even on international flights The airlines make very frequent exceptions to those cut-offs when it suits them to.

  3. Another thing to come away with from this experience is to always always have more of necessary medications with you than for the actual length of one’s trip. Stuff happens – When the volcanic ash (an extreme example of delays) caused flight chaos years ago, many people were caught out not having enough of their medication(s) – It is really important to be sure you have additional meds.

    1. Couldn’t agree more. When my wife and I travel, we usually have three days extra of our prescription medications along and if we are flying international, am extra week’s worth. Fortunately, w ehave never been delayed where any of those came into play, but we plan ahead.

    2. 100% agree. Always carry more than you need, just in case.

      Telling the agent that you are out of meds is not going to get you on that plane. It may have the opposite effect as the OP almost found out. The have heard every excuse in the book and cannot differentiate between the truthtellers and the liars.

    3. So right! Stuff happens. If you take meds, always carry more than you think you need. And mentioning the lack to the agent was obviously a bad move. The agent’s response was perfectly logical.

  4. Glad it was resolved. Something to add “Next time you run into a problem like this, remember” to make sure you have enough medication. There are enough things to worry about without people running out of their meds.

  5. The suggestion by many posters to make sure you have extra meds is a good one, but one not always possible. As a frequent traveller, I am insured by one of the largest in the country. If you need extra meds and its around refill time, they allow only one early refill due to travel per year. You can appeal and with proof, they usually will bend the rules, but it takes time. In addition, most pharmacies will only refill scheduled meds ( like narcotics, meds for certain diseases, etc) 2 to 3 days before you run out. And that policy is non negotiable, unless once again, you have proof,such as your reservation, to show them. If they do bend this rule, they’ll usually call to get Dr approval. So plan ahead at home, if you know you’re going to need to take extra meds.

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