James Willing from London was looking forward to a restful long weekend in Toulouse with his partner, but it turned out to be anything but, after what he describes as appalling treatment by easyJet. The budget airline overbooked the flight and denied him boarding at the gate even though he had checked in on time.
He claims he was sworn at by ground staff at Gatwick airport and was forced to spend three hours being shuffled through non-EU immigration controls. Adding insult to injury,easyJet then denied responsibility and refused to pay a penny of compensation.
Willings ordeal came just days after reports that the airline removed an unaccompanied child from an overbooked flight and left him alone at the departure gate on precisely the same Gatwick-Toulouse route.
It also comes amid a rising number of complaints about overbooking, luggage and failure to pay compensation concerning easyJet that are turning up in Moneys Consumer Champions postbag.
Unlike Ryanair, easyJet routinely overbooks its flights in a bid to maximise profits. And while the airline used to pay volunteers to get off in the event everyone turned up, Willings experience suggests that its policy may be to remove whoever checked in last.
I had checked in online well within the permitted time frame, and been given a seat number. But when I came to print my boarding card a little later, it had disappeared and no seat number showed up I was simply told to go to the gate, he says.
When he arrived and asked what was going on, he says he was astounded to be told that the flight was full, and that while his partner with whom he was travelling could get on, he could not.
After a row, which involved supervisors and ground crew, he was forced to spend three hours going back through the airport supervised by the ground crew. They wouldnt let me use the automated passport booths but insisted I had to go through immigration control for international (non-EU) arrivals, which meant two hours in a queue to show my passport, he adds.
Once back in the departure hall, he says easyJet staff were not remotely interested in helping him. They also told him that there were no seats available on the easyJet flight to Toulouse that night. However, he was able to book via a travel agent at the airport onto that very flight. This cost 200 80 more than his original booking.
The story gets worse. When I arrived at the gate, there was another passenger, an elderly French woman, in floods of tears because they had done exactly the same thing to her bumped her off the flight and she was going to miss a funeral as a result.
When Willing returned home and applied for the compensation he was due under the EU 261 rules, plus a refund of the extra flight and other expenses, he was astonished to be told by easyJet that it had no record of him being taken off the original flight, and as result it would not be paying him anything. Only an email to easyJets outgoing chief executive, Carolyn McCall, finally prompted some action. It has now agreed to refund the flight and give him the compensation he is due for being denied boarding.
To me the overbooking thing is just greed its prioritising profits over the welfare of passengers. There is no need to do it why should paying passengers have their holidays ruined in this way. Its an appalling way to treat your customers. I am still angry about it now, he says.
An easyJet spokeswoman apologised to Willing for his experience. We are very sorry that he has not already been compensated in line with EU 261. We always aim to provide compensation as quickly as possible and customers can claim their expenses and EU 261 online, typically now receiving their money in their account five dayslater.
EasyJet added that it was completely open about its overbooking procedures. We sometimes sell more seats on a flight if we know that there is a high likelihood of passengers not turning up. We look at the historical data for each flight to determine the number of no-shows weve seen in the past and use this to calculate the number we can expect in the future.
We will always ask for volunteers to give up their seats in the first instance, and only a tiny proportion of our passengers are unable to take a flight due to oversales. On average, across our flights, we will only overbook by one or two per flight and, as a result, it is rare for easyJet to deny boarding because a flight is overbooked.
Its statement suggests that if you are checking in online and receive a message that says online check-in is unavailable … go to the bag drop desks then it is time to get worried. We do this because it reduces unnecessary concern about being overbooked as 97% of those who are overbooked will fly as planned. We allocate seats in order of check-in and our check-in opens 30 days prior to departure.
In 2015, Money featured the case of Gary Walton, whose five-day golfing break in Spain was wrecked when he and a friend were bumped off their easyJet flight. They had checked in online a week earlier, and had their boarding passes and seats allocated, but when they tried to check in their luggage at Luton more than two hours before takeoff they were told the flight had been overbooked.
EasyJet paid statutory compensation after they were forced to abandon their trip, but they lost the cost of the hotel, hire car and transfer. I thought I was buying a flight, not a lottery ticket, said Walton at the time.