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.

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Sport
The Pipes and Drums of The Scottish Regiments perform during the Opening Ceremony for the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park on July 23, 2014 in Glasgow, Scotland.
Commonwealth gamesThe actor encouraged the one billion viewers of the event to donate to the children's charity
Sport
Members of the Scotland deleagtion walk past during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park in Glasgow on July 23, 2014.
Voices
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
Sport
Shinji Kagawa and Reece James celebrate after the latter scores in Manchester United's 7-0 victory over LA Galaxy
football
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
film
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
News
Very tasty: Vladimir Putin dining alone, perhaps sensibly
news
Life and Style
Listen here: Apple EarPods offer an alternative
techAre custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?
Arts and Entertainment
Top guns: Cole advised the makers of Second World War film Fury, starring Brad Pitt
filmLt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a uniform
News
The University of California study monitored the reaction of 36 dogs
sciencePets' range of emotions revealed
News
Snoop Dogg pictured at The Hollywood Reporter Nominees' Night in February, 2013
people... says Snoop Dogg
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
News
Joining forces: young British men feature in an Isis video in which they urge Islamists in the West to join them in Iraq and Syria
newsWill the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?
Arts and Entertainment
The nomination of 'The Wake' by Paul Kingsnorth has caused a stir
books
News
i100
Life and Style
food + drinkZebra meat is exotic and lean - but does it taste good?
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
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

    C++ Software Engineer - Hounslow, West London - C++ - to £60K +

    £40000 - £60000 per annum + Pension, Healthcare : Deerfoot IT Resources Limite...

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Visitor Experience volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary role: Old Royal Naval College: To assist the Visitor Experien...

    Telesales Manager. Paddington, London

    £45-£55k OTE £75k : Charter Selection: Major London International Fashion and ...

    Day In a Page

    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

    Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
    US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

    Meet the US Army's shooting star

    Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
    Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

    Take a good look while you can

    How climate change could wipe out this seal
    Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

    Farewell, my lovely

    Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
    Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

    Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

    Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
    Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

    Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

    John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
    Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

    Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

    The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
    The 10 best pedicure products

    Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

    Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

    Commonwealth Games 2014

    Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
    Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

    Jack Pitt-Brooke

    Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
    How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

    How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

    Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game