easyJet accused of ignoring rules for 'failing to book passengers on other airlines after cancelled flights'

Exclusive: Britain’s biggest budget airline cancels dozens of flights over weekend but refuses to rebook on other carriers 

 

Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
Monday 12 August 2019 08:05 BST
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easyJet accused of ignoring rules for 'failing to book passengers on other airlines after cancelled flights'

Britain’s biggest budget airline, easyJet, is refusing to comply with the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) rules on cancelled flights by failing to book seats on rival carriers where necessary.

A family from Bristol were waiting at the city’s airport for easyJet’s 7am departure to Nice on Sunday, when the flight was abruptly cancelled 45 minutes before take-off.

Rachel Hollyer, her husband Tim Lines and their children Max and Olivia were heading for a holiday in the south of France.

“They just announced the flight was cancelled and that was it,“ said Ms Hollyer. ”We were told to go online.”

Flight 6111 was one of dozens cancelled over the weekend by easyJet.

According to European air passengers’ rights rules, known as EU261: “When passengers are informed of the cancellation, an explanation shall be given concerning possible alternative transport.”

The rules say: “Re-routing should be offered at no additional cost to the passenger, even where passengers are re-routed with another air carrier or on a different transport mode or in a higher class or at a higher fare than the one paid for the original service.”

As easyJet had no seats from a nearby airport, it was obliged to buy tickets on British Airways from Heathrow or Gatwick, where seats were available – even if only business class was available.

Not Nice: rather than being in the south of France, the family of Gillian Hollyer are back home because easyJet cancelled their flight and refused to find a same-day alternative

But, said Ms Hollyer, “On a call to easyJet we were not offered the option of alternative carrier. We were offered a 2pm flight on Tuesday from Gatwick to Nice.

“In an attempt to recover the situation we booked ourselves on a flight from Gatwick to Nice in Tuesday morning, thinking this would be reimbursed given the circumstances.”

Yet easyJet refused, saying it would refund only the original cost of the Bristol-Nice tickets – leaving the family £180 out of pocket. A taxi to Gatwick for the early flight will cost an additional £180.

After The Independent intervened, easyJet said it would reimburse the extra costs.

On Saturday afternoon easyJet cancelled its Montpellier-Gatwick flight, telling passengers the cause was bad weather and they would not get compensation.

According to the CAA, the airline should immediately have organised alternative transport. In this case it would have been via Paris, using either a plane or train to the French capital.

But Mike Ruddick, one of the passengers on board, was told his only option was to accept a flight two days later.

He asked The Independent: “First available flight is Monday. Is that reasonable?”

Not only does the refusal to offer an alternative flout the CAA rule – it even goes against the airline’s published policy, which says: “We will endeavour to get you an easyJet flight to your final destination within 48 hours of your original flight departing.

“If we’re unable to do this, you have the option to switch to another airline, take a train, bus or hire a car.”

A spokesperson for easyJet said: “Affected passengers were given the option of transferring their flight free of charge or receiving a refund.”

The airline is adamant that it is not obliged to book seats on rival flights, saying: “In Mr Lines and Mrs Hollyer’s case, we offered them an alternative easyJet flight and will be reimbursing any reasonable expenses they incurred.

“Passengers on the Montpellier to Gatwick flight which was cancelled due to adverse weather outside of our control were also offered the option of transferring their flight free of charge or receiving a refund.”

The spokesperson added: “We take our responsibilities under EU261 very seriously.

easyJet passengers stranded for three days in Jersey

”We already offer re-routing options to customers in event of cancellations and are working with the CAA in relation to their most recent guidance.”

The “recent guidance” was issued in December 2018 with an instruction for it to take effect from 30 June 2019.

A CAA spokesperson said: “Passengers have the right to be provided with alternate travel options and other assistance, such as food and drink, when flights are cancelled or delayed.

“We are in contact with the airline to determine what happened on this occasion.”

The rule is particularly relevant because of the imminent prospect of pilots’ strikes on British Airways and Ryanair by members of the British Airline Pilots’ Association (Balpa).

BA pilots have voted overwhelmingly to take industrial action over a pay claim, while pilots employed by Ryanair in the UK have already set strike dates: 22 and 23 August and 2-4 September inclusive.

British Airways, which cancelled nearly 200 flights as a result of an “IT glitch” last week, said in a statement: “We always comply with our obligations under EU261.

“When a flight is cancelled, we offer customers reroute options to their destination including on alternative routings, dates and airlines where necessary.”

The Independent estimates that 350,000 passengers are potentially affected by the threatened Ryanair strike, including many families flying back from their holidays.

Ryanair has not yet responded to a request from The Independent to confirm that it finds flights on other airlines when it cannot offer a timely alternative on its own services.

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