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Wed, Sept. 18

THE TRAVEL TROUBLESHOOTER: Do I deserve compensation for my canceled Vueling Airlines flight?

When Vueling Airlines delays David Levine’s flight, it owes him compensation under European regulations. Why isn’t it paying him, as promised?

Q: Last year, I was scheduled to fly from Barcelona to Banjul, Gambia, on Vueling Airlines. The flight was initially delayed, then delayed further, and then delayed again. We finally boarded the aircraft about eight hours late, then sat in the plane for 40 minutes, and then were told to disembark. Vueling representatives didn’t say why.

A crew member told me that since the flight was delayed so long, the crew was no longer permitted to fly and a replacement crew would need to be found. Hours passed. Finally, Vueling canceled the flight. I ended up spending the night on the floor in Vueling’s “VIP” lounge.

Worse things have happened and I’m not a whiner, but the level of disorganization and crappy communication made things pretty uncomfortable. Passengers from other flights that had been canceled told me this kind of treatment is par for the course with Vueling.

A Vueling representative told me they would compensate me 250 euros for the cancellations. It’s been several months, but I haven’t received anything yet. Can you help me? — David Levine, Banjul, Gambia

A: Vueling shouldn’t have delayed you overnight. But if it did, then at least it should have kept its promise to send you 250 euros in compensation.

By the way, that compensation wasn’t an act of generosity by Vueling. It’s required under a European law called EC 261. However, one problem with EC 261 is that it doesn’t require a timely payment of compensation; an airline can sit on a refund request for months — or even years. Seriously. I’ve seen some that have taken more than a year.

Here’s a little good news. Vueling was wrong about owing you 250 euros. The regulation requires that it pay you 600 euros.

You experienced what’s known as a creeping delay with a crew timeout. Vueling had an unknown mechanical problem with the aircraft. It probably thought it could fix it, which is why the airline boarded you. The repairs took longer than expected, and then the crew couldn’t work the flight because of the government’s strict work rules. By the way, you want those strict work rules, because who wants a tired crew operating a $99 million aircraft?

One other problem with your case: You didn’t keep a paper trail. And there’s a good reason for that. You’re a doctor on a medical mission to Africa with limited access to email. But if you’d had email, you could have filed a claim and started a paper trail, escalating your case to the Vueling executives or to Spanish regulators, who are in charge of enforcing EC 261. I list the names, numbers and email addresses of Vueling’s customer service managers on my consumer advocacy site.

I contacted Vueling on your behalf, and a week later, you also sent a complaint to Agencia Estatal de Seguridad Aerea (AESA), the Spanish airline regulators. Vueling sent you 600 euros, as it was required to do.

Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine and the author of “How to Be the World’s Smartest Traveler.” You can read more travel tips on his blog, elliott.org, or email him at chris@elliott.org.

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