Families worry about expenses after flights are cancelled

  • Written by Michael Reese
  • Business Correspondent, BBC News

image source, Baker family

photo caption,

The Bakers are stranded in Palma and trying to get home

With thousands of UK holidaymakers canceling their home flights in recent days, many are worried about making up their extra costs.

Families reported needing food, housing and, in some cases, alternative travel, due to the chaos.

There are rules for claiming expenses, but there seem to be some gray areas.

Figures show that nearly 2,000 flights to and from the UK have been canceled due to a data glitch in the UK’s air traffic control system.

The National Air Traffic Service (NATS), which controls most planes in UK airspace, said a “rare” system malfunction on Monday had led to the cancellation of hundreds of flights.

The Baker family is among thousands of vacationers affected.

Mark, Holly and their two children were stranded in Palma, Majorca, when EasyJet’s flight to Brighton was canceled on Monday.

They told the BBC they were offered accommodation and a new flight within a week, but because they had work and one of their daughters was in secondary school, they couldn’t wait that long.

Instead, the family took an overnight ferry from the Spanish island to Toulon in France, where they hope to catch three trains and another ferry back to Brighton by Thursday evening.

Mr. Baker said he wasn’t sure if they could claim alternative travel. Excluding food costs, the family of four has spent just under £1,000 so far on credit cards.

“I didn’t see I had any choice,” Mr. Baker said. “When you’re standing there at the airport at 11 at night, with your kids, and you don’t know what you’re supposed to do.

Baker added, “I don’t know if I’ll get that money back. That’s what worries me.”

He said the family was aware of how much they were spending on food and accommodation, given guidelines on claiming costs that stated they should be “reasonable”.

Mr Baker said he tried to contact EasyJet by phone but was unable to speak to any staff and so he was holding all his receipts in the hope of getting the money back.

“I’m trying to keep my costs down just in case. I’m not going to take Mickey,” said Mr. Baker.

Another family from Greenwich, London, told the BBC they were now stranded in Turkey after the EasyJet flight from Antalya to Gatwick was canceled on Monday.

Samina Ahmed, a school principal, misses work and her training session due to tardiness.

image source, Samina Ahmed

photo caption,

The family is currently staying in a hotel about 25 minutes from Antalya Airport, provided by EasyJet

The closest flight home EasyJet provided to the family was on September 8 – two days after her sons returned to school.

They were in Turkey for a family holiday but Samina, who is 17 weeks pregnant, feels “exhausted”. She also says she has run out of medication she needs to take for her blood pressure.

She says she is aware of another family who has rebooked a flight with a different company, but worries that they will not be compensated: “I don’t have that much money.”

EasyJet has since offered Samina’s family a return flight on 4 September, which she says is still too late.

EasyJet apologized for the disruption in a statement and said it was offering customers “assistance and hotel accommodation”.

It added that it “advises anyone who needs their own hotel or alternative travel arrangements that they will be reimbursed.”

She said that, traditionally a busy week for travel, her options for getting people back to the UK were “more limited in some ways”, so she was organizing five flights back home, as well as using larger planes with extra seats.

photo caption,

Rob Ward and his girlfriend Gabby are stuck in Ibiza for three more days

Rob Ward estimates he took more than £2,000 out of pocket after his and his girlfriend’s British Airways flight from Ibiza to London Heathrow was canceled on Monday.

“After waiting for three hours on live chat with British Airways (the guy) he suggested a flight on Saturday night with a stopover in Barcelona and then Doha! We finally found a flight on Thursday at 3am to Manchester, which we now had to pay for ourselves.” . .

“We had to book again in a hotel and (try to) claim it back through the expenses of the Library of Alexandria and miss work for the rest of the week,” he said.

Rob, who runs two gyms, says he has spent around £1,000 on hotels, £250 on new flights and will lose two days’ income as a personal trainer.

“You’re budgeting for a holiday, and that can’t be reasonably accepted without the help of the airline except to ‘keep your receipts’,” Rob said.

BA said people can claim anywhere from £200 to £250 per night for hotels and £25 to £35 per person per meal.

The BBC asked the airline to comment on Rob’s specific experience.

The chaos experienced by thousands of UK travelers was the result of Nats receiving data it was unable to process, causing part of its system to fail.

Nats control most aircraft in UK airspace and receive millions of flight plans each year. Because of the failure, the NATS reverted to a manual system, which meant it could handle fewer flights, causing a huge backlog.

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), the industry’s watchdog, says that under UK law people have legal rights to many flights to, from or within the UK.

If the flight is cancelled, the passenger’s airline must allow them to choose between a refund or an alternative flight to their destination.

If another airline is traveling to the person’s destination much sooner, or other suitable transportation is available, the person is entitled to be booked on the alternate mode of transportation instead.

Rory Boland, travel editor at consumer group Which?, told the BBC that people who had booked alternative transport could claim expenses as a result of no flights being available.

“Airlines cannot claim that an exceptional circumstance exists forever,” he said.

In the case of the Bakers and other families, Boland said, “no one should wait a week to get a replacement flight” as the law states that airlines are required to provide replacements “at the earliest opportunity”.

“Waiting a week is never the sooner,” Mr Boland said.

Also on Wednesday, the CAA’s joint interim chief executive Rob Bechton said customers should keep every receipt if they are to cover the costs of their meals and accommodation and ensure claims are not “excessive”.

He said that the organization works with airlines to avoid providing any incorrect information to customers.

The Civil Aviation Authority advises people not to spend more than is “reasonable” for costs incurred as a result of canceled flights. It also says it expects airlines to respond to reimbursement claims in a “reasonable” time.

While people should be able to claim expenses, since the disruption is not the airlines’ fault, people are unlikely to be eligible for additional compensation.

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