Simon Calder: The mystery of easyJet's missing flights

Andy Harrison is a man to whom you would gladly lend the odd £20. He is, after all, the likeable and successful chief executive of Britain's biggest airline, in terms of passenger numbers: easyJet. Mr Harrison runs a first-rate operation that, this year, will carry 50 million people across Europe at fares usually way below those that prevailed before easyJet was born in 1995.

While rivals carriers such as SkyEurope go bust (having lost, coincidentally, £20 for every passenger ever carried), easyJet is in relatively good shape. Mr Harrison can be relied upon to return loans; just as well, because a number of passengers have unwittingly provided his company with interest-free easyCash.

I am among them, having lent easyJet the economy-size sum of £21.99. Like the other inadvertent financiers, I thought I had booked a confirmed flight, but my Belfast-Gatwick hop in October turns out to be a ghost flight.

This month, the airline's "Customer Experience Team" sent an email saying, "Due to unforeseen circumstances, we have had to cancel the flight". So, instead, I will be able to sample a Customer Non-Experience.

Goodness, what is happening at easyJet? Since it started flying 14 years ago, the airline has proved adept at foreseeing circumstances. As easyJet has expanded, it has managed its aircraft and crew to fit the promised schedules. Not this autumn.

"The flight was disrupted due to unavoidable reasons," explained the member of the Customer Experience Team who refunded my loan, adding enigmatically, "I can confirm that there are a number of factors that lead to delays and disruptions."

Other disappointed easyJet passengers have had trips to Spain "disrupted" – ie arbitrarily eliminated from the schedules. The airline can cancel flights without penalty up to a fortnight before departure. Passengers have been offered alternative flights or their money back, but easyJet's liability does not extend to refunding, for example, a pre-paid hotel stay or rental car.

"The decision to do this was our last option," explains the easyJet email. Stranger still. October is exactly when you would not expect unforeseen circumstances to oblige airlines to cancel flights. Once the summer peak is over, most carriers have more than enough staff and aircraft on their books. Since easyJet explored every other option, presumably none of the ad hoc charter companies was able to provide a suitable plane.

I asked easyJet what led to its last-ditch decision to ditch, if I may, the Belfast-Gatwick flight. A spokeswoman for the airline said, "We have made some amendments to the winter schedule flying programme, which means some re-timings and rescheduling on a small number of flights." I am still baffled how that constitutes "unforeseen circumstances".

Save for the merry months of summer, plus Christmas, New Year and Easter, many airlines routinely lose money.

Finance directors would happily shut up shop between October and March, reopening briefly in mid-December until early January. They don't, for several reasons. First, to retain customer loyalty, particularly among business travellers. Next, because airline leasing companies are disinclined to provide planes only for the profitable times of year. Third, because you can retain good staff only if you offer year-round employment. So they keep the operation going and try to limit their losses.

Has easyJet simply concluded that it is uneconomical to operate certain departures this winter? No, says the spokeswoman, "We are not cancelling flights just because of low load factors."

No homage to Catalonia on BA

Cynics, never in short supply in aviation, maintain that money is the root of ad hoc cancellations. British Airways is tactically cancelling some flights this winter to staunch its losses. Indeed, BA's cash flow has benefited to the tune of £100 at my expense for the best part of a year because of another loan for a phantom flight.

As soon as Abta announced its 2009 travel convention would be held in Barcelona, I booked a return flight from London to the Catalan capital for next month. Had I decided at any time in the past 10 months to cancel, I would have lost all the money.

But it was BA that exercised, if I may over-dramatise for a moment, the nuclear option. Its revenue staff looked at the level of bookings and the fares paid, and concluded there was no hope of covering costs on the Barcelona flight. "We do make these decisions on commercial grounds, and make no bones about it," said a BA spokesman.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Buttoned up: Ryan Reynolds with Helen Mirren in ‘Woman in Gold’
filmFor every box-office smash in his Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. Now he says it's time for a reboot
News
people
News
Actress Julianne Moore wins the Best Actress in a Leading Role Award for 'Still Alice' during the 87th Annual Academy Awards in Hollywood, California
people
Sport
Ross Barkley
footballPaul Scholes says it's time for the Everton playmaker to step up and seize the England No 10 shirt
News
'We will fix it': mice in the 1970s children’s programme Bagpuss
science
Life and Style
2 Karl Lagerfeld and Choupette
fashion
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Car Sales Executive - OTE £36,000

    £12500 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This established Wakefield Deal...

    Guru Careers: .NET Developers / Software Developers

    Competitive (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: our .NET Developers / Software Dev...

    Sheridan Maine: Accounts Assistant

    £25,000 - £30,000: Sheridan Maine: Are you looking for a fantastic opportunity...

    Ashdown Group: Management Accountant - Manchester

    £25000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Management Accountant - Manchester...

    Day In a Page

    War with Isis: Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria's capital

    War with Isis

    Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria
    Scientists develop mechanical spring-loaded leg brace to improve walking

    A spring in your step?

    Scientists develop mechanical leg brace to help take a load off
    Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock: How London shaped the director's art and obsessions

    Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock

    Ackroyd has devoted his literary career to chronicling the capital and its characters. He tells John Walsh why he chose the master of suspense as his latest subject
    Ryan Reynolds interview: The actor is branching out with Nazi art-theft drama Woman in Gold

    Ryan Reynolds branches out in Woman in Gold

    For every box-office smash in Ryan Reynolds' Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. It's time for a rethink and a reboot, the actor tells James Mottram
    Why Robin Williams safeguarded himself against a morbid trend in advertising

    Stars safeguard against morbid advertising

    As film-makers and advertisers make increasing posthumous use of celebrities' images, some stars are finding new ways of ensuring that they rest in peace
    The UK horticulture industry is facing a skills crisis - but Great Dixter aims to change all that

    UK horticulture industry facing skills crisis

    Great Dixter manor house in East Sussex is encouraging people to work in the industry by offering three scholarships a year to students, as well as generous placements
    Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head

    Hack Circus: Technology, art and learning

    Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head. Rhodri Marsden meets mistress of ceremonies Leila Johnston
    Sevenoaks is split over much-delayed decision on controversial grammar school annexe

    Sevenoaks split over grammar school annexe

    If Weald of Kent Grammar School is given the go-ahead for an annexe in leafy Sevenoaks, it will be the first selective state school to open in 50 years
    10 best compact cameras

    A look through the lens: 10 best compact cameras

    If your smartphone won’t quite cut it, it’s time to invest in a new portable gadget
    Paul Scholes column: Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now

    Paul Scholes column

    Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now
    Why Michael Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

    Why Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

    Manchester United's talented midfielder has played international football for almost 14 years yet, frustratingly, has won only 32 caps, says Sam Wallace
    Tracey Neville: The netball coach who is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

    Tracey Neville is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

    The former player on how she is finding time to coach both Manchester Thunder in the Superleague and England in this year's World Cup
    General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

    The masterminds behind the election

    How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
    Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

    Machine Gun America

    The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
    The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

    The ethics of pet food

    Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?