The airline has apologised and says staff will undergo additional training

Exclusive: ‘Our holiday was completely and utterly ruined by easyJet’s greed’

Less than 24 hours after Dr David Dao was manhandled from a United flight in Chicago, two Londoners on board an easyJet plane at Luton airport were ordered to leave the flight after the airline sold more tickets than there were seats available.

Britain's biggest budget carrier then broke the rules on overbooking by failing to tell the couple about their rights to compensation and alternative flights.

Manoj, aged 38, and Viddha, 35, who have asked for their last names to be withheld, had paid £678 for tickets to Catania in Sicily. They planned a six-day Easter break and had booked €1,500 (£1,270)-worth of non-refundable accommodation and transfers on the Italian island.

United Airlines passenger is dragged off plane because airline overbooked

But after they boarded flight EZY2383 on 10 April, it became clear there were insufficient seats. The couple were ordered to go back to the terminal and collect their baggage.

“This was an incredibly humiliating situation,” said Manoj, an IT consultant. “The airline had overbooked and we were involuntarily off-boarded from the aircraft by two airport staff in front of a packed plane.

"The only difference between us and the chap involved with United Airlines is that we weren't physically dragged off.”

Like many other airlines, easyJet predicts the number of "no-shows" and overbooks some flights, selling seats that do not exist. When more passengers turn up than seats available, they may legally offload anyone they wish. But to minimise the distress and inconvenience to the selected victims, European regulations stipulate what the overbooking airline is required to do.

First, staff must seek volunteers prepared to travel on a later flight in return for a financial inducement.

If insufficient volunteers are forthcoming, the passengers chosen to be offloaded must immediately be given hundreds of pounds in compensation and provided with written details of their rights.

Finally, the airline must find alternative flights to get them to their destination as swiftly as possible.

The couple say easyJet broke all these rules.

They say they witnessed no attempt to find volunteers either at the gate or on board the plane.

After they were led back to the terminal, the couple asked about their rights. One easyJet representative at the airport and five customer-service staff at the airline's call centre in South Africa failed to tell them that they were each due €400 in compensation. The couple found out about their entitlement only when they contacted The Independent.

The couple should have been flown out to Italy the same day on another airline and taken on to Catania early the next morning. But even though they say they repeatedly asked for alternative flights, they were told their only option was a flight four days later – which rendered the trip pointless.

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A leading aviation executive, who agreed to speak anonymously, said: “This episode bears all the hallmarks of the United Airlines ‘deplaning’, bar the assault. To be on the aircraft, then hauled off in front of 180 other passengers, and then apparently not to be offered any of the assistance to which they were entitled, does not look good for the airline.

“To be fair to easyJet, this was their handling agent's error. But if you have an overbooking policy it is absolutely the airline’s responsibility to have clear and robust procedures in place to minimise the inconvenience to passengers and compensate them as the law requires.”

Six days after the couple were offloaded, the airline told The Independent: “We are very sorry about the situation that the couple have experienced. Their flight from Luton to Catania was overbooked by one person and this has neither been handled well enough to meet our standards or our policy which is compliant with EU261 regulations. 

“Unfortunately, due to an issue with the boarding process, the customers were cleared to board as the gate staff incorrectly believed two seats were available when there was only one.

“Whilst our approach to compensation for overbooked passengers is clearly outlined on our website, through which claims can be submitted in minutes, it is clear that our agents did not follow the guidelines or provide the correct advice. 

“Whilst we did explain that we would refund flights and expenses against receipts, the agent failed to mention they were entitled to EU261 compensation. 

“From the call transcripts we can confirm that neither the customer nor the agent talked about alternative travel on the calls which is another failure on our part. 

“We want to reassure customers that we will be providing additional training to every contact centre agent now to make sure that future customers are not put through a similar experience.  

“We are genuinely sorry for what has happened.”

Manoj, who is self-employed and has lost potential earnings, said: “The airline’s lack of empathy and help through this incident was shocking. My partner is a science teacher who's had an incredibly tough year, and like most teachers she really needs a break away. She cannot take a holiday at just any time of year.

“Finding a substitute holiday at short notice during the Easter period is incredibly expensive and difficult.

“Our holiday was completely and utterly ruined by easyJet’s greed.”