Primera Air: Thousands left stranded as another airline fails

Low-cost carrier leaves a trail of claims from disrupted passengers

Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
Monday 01 October 2018 20:40 BST
Primera Air: Thousands left stranded as another airline fails

Primera Air has ceased flying. Passengers at Stansted learnt the news as they were waiting to depart to New York and Washington DC.

Thousands of other British passengers are stranded in North America and continental Europe tonight after another low-cost airline failure.

The collapse leaves them with worthless tickets home, as well a trail of unpaid claims by passengers whose flights earlier in the summer were disrupted.

Stansted airport has impounded at least one aircraft.

Primera Air, which was Icelandic owned but had operations based in both Latvia and Denmark, had run charter operations mainly serving Nordic passengers for around 15 years.

In 2017, it announced an ambitious programme of flights from Stansted and Birmingham to New York, Boston, Washington and Toronto, as well as destinations in Spain and elsewhere in Europe.

But before operations had even begun, Primera Air upset thousands of passengers by dropping a number of routes – and then announced it was abandoning Birmingham completely.

Primera blamed variously late deliveries from Airbus of new A321 jets, and weak demand.

Transatlantic routes from Stansted did operate, though many passengers found they were travelling on a 28-year-old Boeing 757 chartered from the US rather than a brand-new Airbus flown by Primera.

Hundreds of passengers contacted The Independent with reports of terrible customer service.

Even as rumours began to circulate about its demise, the airline was still trading – selling tickets on its website, up to 5pm.

The collapse comes on the eve of the first anniversary of the failure of Monarch. That bankruptcy triggered the biggest-ever peacetime airlift, with the Civil Aviation Authority setting up a “shadow airline” to repatriate 125,000 passengers. There will be no such operation for Primera Air. Other airlines, though, will step in and offer special repatriation fares for disrupted passengers. At this time of year, there should be plenty of available seats.

Passengers holding Primera Air tickets will need to claim from their credit card company or travel insurer – unless they are travelling as part of a package, in which case the tour operator must provide a refund or alternative flights.

Thousands of passengers who are owed compensation as a result of severe flight disruptions earlier in the summer are likely to be hundreds or even thousands of pounds out of pocket.

It appears that standard practice in the event of cancelled flights was to tell passengers to book on alternative airlines, with the promise that Primera Air would refund them.

In addition, compensation for abruptly cancelled flights was withheld.

While passengers are technically unsecured creditors, it is unlikely that they will get any recompense.

Passengers on flight PF47 from Stansted to Washington were kept on the ground while the captain awaited instructions. Travellers booked on PF41 to New York’s Newark Airport were not allowed on the plane.

Many of them are US passengers trying to return home.

An email seen by The Independent indicates that the company is likely formally to announce its closure at midnight, Latvia time (10pm British Summer Time).

It blames the collapse on late deliveries from Airbus.

The email says that arrangements are being made to bring staff who are currently in North America back to their bases.

A statement from the airline said: “Without additional financing, we do not see any possibility to continue our operations.”

“This is an enormous disappointment after the incredible hard work and dedication put into building the airline.

“[The] company wants to sincerely thank all its employees for their hard work and dedication, its clients for years of loyal support, and its suppliers for their cooperation during the years.”

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