Wednesday 21 March 2018

'Late flight ruined our anniversary'

Pol O Conghaile

Catherine Hanly and her husband Evan had a cracking plan to celebrate their wedding anniversary. The couple booked flights with Aer Lingus and its partner United Airlines to Las Vegas on December 27, together with a suite at the Monte Carlo Hotel and a Grand Canyon excursion.

When their Aer Lingus flight out of Dublin was delayed by four hours, due to what passengers were told was a plumbing fault, the couple feared missing their connection in Chicago.

Their fears proved correct. Despite reassurances that they would make a later flight, they arrived to find that the next available flight to Las Vegas wasn't until January 1.

Aer Lingus provided vouchers for the Holiday Inn at Chicago's O'Hare Airport, but the Hanlys were charged as a 'no show' for one night at the Monte Carlo in Las Vegas, downgraded to a standard room, and also had to pay for the Grand Canyon excursion they had booked but could no longer attend.

Aer Lingus staff reassured the couple that they would be compensated for the inconvenience, Catherine says.

"After spending a miserable first wedding anniversary in Chicago, we returned to O'Hare on January 2 to check in for our flight to Las Vegas."

When they returned home, Catherine wrote to Aer Lingus on January 18, outlining the couple's distress, inconvenience, claiming it was "clearly the fault of Aer Lingus", and what they felt was a lack of any clear policy from the airline. She requested that Aer Lingus contact her about compensation.

By the time Catherine contacted the 'Irish Independent' in late February, she had yet to receive an acknowledgement from Aer Lingus and was considering contacting a solicitor.

When we contacted Aer Lingus, the airline said it did not comment on individual cases, but that a customer service representative would be in touch with Catherine. A week later, she received a letter from the airline offering two flights to Paris as a gesture of goodwill.

The airline recognised her disappointment, agreed that the service she received "is not what we would wish for our customers", and said the station manager in Chicago would be made aware of her feedback, but maintained that it was not liable for claims 'of a consequential nature'.

Catherine's reaction? "While I appreciate the gesture, given that our initial trip was to Chicago and Vegas, I am not sure that a European flight is a satisfactory gesture, particularly as they don't really accept responsibility," she says.

Unfortunately for the couple, the airline is correct to say it has no liability under Regulation (EC) 261/2004 for expenses incurred at her destination as a result of the delay. Meals and accommodation must be provided to passengers while they wait for a re-routing under the Regulation, but consequential expenses are excluded, the Aviation Regulator says.

Catherine has since contacted the airline to request vouchers instead of the return flights to Paris, and Aer Lingus has promised to issue those to the value of €450. If she wished, Catherine could also pursue her expenses through the small claims court, under the Montreal Convention or contract law, for example.

Of course, there is no guarantee that she would be successful.

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