Primera Air collapse: Travel plans wrecked as passengers stranded

Rival airlines including British Airways, Virgin Atlantic and Ryanair now offering ‘repatriation fares’

Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
Tuesday 02 October 2018 21:54
Primera Air collapse: Travel plans wrecked as passengers stranded

As Primera Air passengers stranded on both sides of the Atlantic try to find alternative flights home, costs for some travellers are soaring.

One couple who had Primera Air tickets to fly from Washington DC to Stansted on Saturday have instead booked one-way flights with Virgin Atlantic at a cost of £2,500.

Virgin, along with British Airways and other traditional airlines, prices its cheapest one-way transatlantic flights way above the lowest return fare.

Had they waited, they could have taken advantage of “repatriation” fares. It is customary when airlines collapse that others step in to offer stranded passengers transport home at reduced cost.

Virgin Atlantic is now offering such deals to Primera Air’s customers – and stranded staff - in London, New York, Washington DC, Boston, and Toronto. “A selection of reduced fares are now available,” says the airline. It is advising passengers to call 0344 8747747 in the UK or +1 800 862 8621 in the US.

Norwegian has halved the pre-tax cost of transatlantic flights to Primera passengers. All taxes, fees and charges must be paid at the usual rate. Nevertheless some New York-Gatwick departures are available for under £100 one-way, by calling the airline on + 47 210 16771.

British Airways is also offering a range of discounted repatriation fares for Primera Air customers who are part way through their journey and want to fly back to London. The fares can only be booked via a British Airways call centre, for travel up to 16 October.

American and United have told The Independent they will not be offering such fares.

Ryanair is offering “rescue fares” at around £25-£35 for Primera Air passengers with advance bookings to and from European destinations up to March 2019. They must be booked at by midnight on Thursday 4 October.

Primera Air closed down blaming delays in deliveries of new aircraft for its demise. Passengers on a plane waiting to depart from Stansted Airport to Washington were told to leave the aircraft and reclaim their baggage.

Staff learned at around 3pm UK time on 1 October, but the carrier was still selling tickets at 5pm. It had promised a range of flights from many European airports to the US and Canada that was far beyond the capability of its fleet.

Many of the crew based in Britain were previously employed by Monarch, which went bust last October.

Since Primera Air started operating from Stansted and Birmingham in May, the budget carrier’s performance has been characterised by widespread disruption, as well as ditching entire routes.

The airline, Icelandic-owned but with operations in Denmark and Latvia, encountered high costs during the summer. It upset many passengers with delayed flights, abrupt cancellations and the addition of a stop in Iceland on supposedly nonstop transatlantic services.

As its reputation deteriorated, it was forced to cut fares to implausibly low levels for peak summer flights such as £21 from Spain to the UK and $63 (£48) on eastbound flights from the US.

Tens of thousands of prospective travellers with forward bookings are faced with the choice of having to find alternative flights while they hope for a refund on their original bookings – or abandon their plans altogether.

Passengers tweeted their distress at their flights being cancelled.

Many passengers should be able to claim their fare back from their card provider. But that will not cover “consequential expenses” such as pre-booked hotels and car rental.

Travel insurance provision varies. According to the comparison site GoCompare, only 40 per cent of policies from a total of 1,032 sampled offer cover in the event of an airline failure.

The attitude towards consequential expenses and the cost of emergency tickets on alternative airlines also varies from one insurer to the next.

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