12/18/2010

Your flight is delayed or cancelled: what next

You are booked on a flight which is cancelled, or delayed with the real likelihood of being cancelled: what now? Simple question, complicated answer. If you were affected, then WHAT DID YOU DO?


Today, Saturday 18 December, Geneva airport is open, but other airports around Europe, especially in the United Kingdom, have been much harder hit by the snow. You are booked on a flight, but foresee likely delays, even a cancellation. What information can you get and what should you do. Such a simple question, but the answer is complex. Here are some thoughts, in particular for easyJet customers.

One good addition to the easyJet web site is to be seen on the top left hand side: a clickable box called "Latest travel Information" (the sort of thing I would like to see on the Geneva Airport Web site!). There, you currently get a report on the situation in the UK (rather long, since most airports there have been affected), plus Mainland Europe (currently problems at Pisa and Nantes). Note, however, that all quoted times on the site are in GMT (Greenwich Mean Time, currently UK time and an hour behind Geneva time). There is also information on what to do if your flight is cancelled, which amount to either a refund or a free re-booking. However, because there is no charge for re-booking does not necessarily mean that there will be no financial transaction if the re-booked flight is not the same price as you paid.

Anyway, the first recommended action on the easyJet site is the clickable link entitled "Check flight status": click this, select Geneva airport as the departure place and you will get a long list of all the departures for the day. The quickest way that I know to find your flight in this long list is to use the Web browser "Find" option to look for the flight number.

At this point I was rather disappointed to find that there is no flight status other than "Scheduled" (with the original departure time indicated) or "Cancelled" (with the option to have a refund or a free transfer). Not much help if you want to know the current planning for if/when a non-cancelled flight might leave.

How to find the real current status of a flight? Two choices that I know are to look on the airport web site (if you can reach it), or the teletext on the television (TSR1 programme). Regrettably, these two sources do not always coincide, as I found out when I investigated the flight to Nantes (EZS1363, scheduled at 7h20). At around 2pm, on the airport web site this flight had no status (as on the easyJet site), whilst on teletext it was marked as delayed, expected to leave at 10h36 (that is optimism for you!)

For this flight, you might be pretty sure that it will probably be cancelled, so you would want to be first in the queue for rebooking, especially since there is only one flight there per day. For some other places, you might want to rebook a day later because a late arrival there today would cause lots of problems. However, I would suspect that until the easyJet flight has been officially cancelled, any rebooking would not be free (even if the original flight was cancelled shortly afterwards). If so, then you would be choosing between being charged for a rebooking of a flight not yet cancelled or waiting for the official flight cancellation and then finding the next one, or two, or more, flights already fully booked!

Whether or not a rebooking will mean choosing a flight which is now more, or less, costly than what you originally paid might also be important. In the current situation, aircraft operators can justifiably claim that extreme and unforeseeable (snow in winter!) circumstances limit their obligations to passengers. If, however, there were no such mitigating circumstances, the European regulations would appear not to allow operators to benefit from rebookings. Classic airlines are not allowed to charge you if they upgrade you to a higher class, and to refund you if they put you in a lower class. Low-cost airlines, however, do not have classes (yet!), but have flexible fares. As I write this (Saturday afternoon), there are no available seats on flights to Nantes until next Wednesday, Thursday or Friday, and these flights are extremely expensive (740 CHF next Friday).

If you do not rebook then you have to decide if and when to go to the airport: in the UK they are currently requesting people NOT to go to the airport until the flight operator says when it might leave. However, the easyJet regulations state that you should be at the airport something like 40 minutes before the scheduled time. If both teletext and the airport web site say that the departure will be very late, dare you wait beyond the official last check-in tme for the flight. I don't have the answer!

The conclusion? Since I don't actually know what have been the real experiences of passengers waiting long hours at the airport or re-booking flights, nor what they have paid for the re-booked flight, I have to ask any such people who might read this blog to make comments on their experiences.

Have a nice Christmas, wherever you are going (or even not going, if you give up the travel idea and stay here!).

ps. 7pm: The Geneva airport Web site is requesting all passengers for the UK to contact their airline before coming to the airport. Also, the flight to Nantes is now officially cancelled.

pps. Any spelling errors are due to my cat deciding against travel today, returning home and walking over the keyboard :-)

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