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Dublin: 19 °C Wednesday 26 September, 2018
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'It was pretty appalling' - Aer Lingus communication slammed by Irish stranded across Europe during Storm Emma

Customers stranded in airports across the continent have vented at the perceived lack of communication from the airline as to what was going on.

snow 139_90538733 An Aer Lingus plane pictured at Dublin Airport on Saturday 3 March Source: Sam Boal/Rollingnews.ie

AER LINGUS HAS come in for stinging criticism from Irish passengers who were stranded throughout Europe during the blizzard-type conditions last week.

TheJournal.ie has spoken to multiple passengers who were stranded at locations across the continent.

The vast majority of the complaints stem from the airline’s perceived communications failures as it struggled with the extreme weather event.

Among the complaints were:

  • That the Aer Lingus customer care line was unmanned or unresponsive for extended periods of time
  • That flights were repeatedly cancelled yet passengers were not made aware until they had reached the airport
  • That some passengers were forced to sleep in an airport with their children with no clarity as to when a flight home would be available to them
  • That passengers on standby were not allowed access to flights home with empty seats at different airports
  • That the airline failed to respond to complaints or requests for clarity via its social media channels

Passengers who were stranded in Paris, Bilbao, Malaga, Lanzarote, Brussels, and London have expressed their frustration with the communication regarding the gravity of the situation by the airline.

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“The communications were pretty appalling,” a woman, who slept in Lanzarote’s Arrecife Airport after her family’s outbound flight was cancelled, says. “I’ve still had no response to anything, Facebook, Twitter, emails, nothing. The number they sent us didn’t work.”

In some cases, passengers were forced to rebook at a far greater expense on alternate airlines in order to make it home to Ireland for work commitments.

Many travellers we spoke to said that being booked on a cancelled flight did not see passengers bumped onto the next available plane, but rather being made wait until a flight not booked to full capacity became available. Given the sheer demand and backlog of flights seen across the continent this naturally led to very significant delays.

“Storm Emma brought about the highest level of disruption that Irish aviation has experienced since the volcanic ash cloud of 2010,” an Aer Lingus spokesperson said in response to a query regarding the above issues.

Our guest services teams, across our business, worked around the clock for the past week to help an assist our guests whose travel plans had been disrupted by the effects of the storm. Despite all of our best efforts, the volumes of contacts coming into our call centres and social media channels exceeded the normal volumes by a factor of 20 and there were therefore very long waiting times.

More than 50,000 Aer Lingus customers’ travel plans fell victim to the severe weather conditions, according to the airline.

Intervention

Last Sunday, the plight of passengers bound for Cork from the island of Lanzarote was laid bare, with the intervention of Minister for Transport Shane Ross required to secure the hiring in of a third party aircraft to secure their return home the following day.

The airline said at the time that many of the passengers stranded at Arrecife airport on the island (after their incoming flight was diverted to nearby Fuerteventura) were offered hotel accommodation. Many of the passengers present at the airport contradict that statement however.

“We were told there was no accommodation for any of us,” one woman, an employee at a Dublin hospital who asked not to be named, said.

I ended up sleeping on the floor with my baby and my toddler. We must have phoned the customer care number 50 times but there was never a response.

“While we accommodated thousands of guests in hotel rooms, there were situations where we could not access sufficient hotel rooms and guests unfortunately had to stay in airports,” the Aer Lingus spokesperson said with regard to the issue of accommodation.

“We had more luck with Cork Airport than Aer Lingus when it came to getting feedback,” the woman meanwhile added.

When she and her family travelled to Arrecife Airport (they had initially been due to fly to Dublin on Thursday) on Saturday evening, they spent three hours at a boarding gate waiting for information, during which time the Aer Lingus app informed them their flight was running as per schedule.

IMG_5683 The Lanzarote to Cork service was still showing as running as scheduled three hours after it was due to leave the island - in fact the incoming flight had been diverted to nearby Fuerteventura

Eventually the woman and her family made their way to Dublin using an alternate vendor via Edinburgh at a cost of more than €2,000. When they arrived in the Scottish city the woman received a text from Aer Lingus saying the new flight had been laid on for the Monday.

“When we were still in Lanzarote we were being told there’d be no flight out until the following weekend,” she said.

I’m feeling pretty disenfranchised at this stage. We’ve spent a lot of money with Aer Lingus through the years. But they didn’t seem to care at all. Everyone understands with the severe weather there was going to be disruption, and they must have been overwhelmed. But they just didn’t seem to care what had happened to us.

Empty seats

Dermot Kenny had been due to fly from London Heathrow to Dublin on Friday 2 March. That flight was cancelled. He got a transfer to a Belfast flight for Saturday, and was put on standby.

“They told us to turn up early, check in, and then go to the Dublin gate, and when it was fully boarded if there were any empty seats we would be given those,” he said.

“So we waited for an hour, and the supervisor at the gate said ‘no standbys’. So the plane takes off, and then we’re told that there were at least 10 empty seats, and six of us on standby, but that the plane had to take off for fear Dublin would be closed again.”

I felt that was disingenuous, the plane spent another 25 minutes at the gate.

Dermot ended up flying to Belfast before paying €400 for a taxi home to Kildare. He has lodged a call with the airline’s official complaints system. “I was flabbergasted to be honest. It was the first flight to Dublin from Heathrow in three days. It was really frustrating.”

Screenshot_20180307-200047 (1) Carolina Brannick made 57 calls to the Aer Lingus customer care line without success

Carolina Brannick, meanwhile, returned to Dublin from Paris on Tuesday, six days after she was initially due to travel.

“We did have a hotel, to be fair, although we met students over there who were paying for their own after getting stranded, which is crazy,” she said.

At one stage she made 57 calls to the provided Aer Lingus customer line without success.

“When we finally go through it was to a call centre in America, and they couldn’t help us with the flight.”

We were never told whether to stay or go when our flight was due. So we’d go to the airport only to be told our flight had been cancelled. We were just about to do so again on Saturday when we heard that flight has been cancelled as well.
Aer Lingus don’t man a desk at Charles de Gaulle Airport, so we had no point of contact. We spent the whole time with the app open, and it kept telling us that our flight was disrupted on Tuesday – which just lead to panic stations. We did have a hotel, but we’d only packed for a three-day trip, so you can imagine the problems that caused.

“Due to the severity of the weather and the scale of the disruption, there were many who experienced long waits on the phone, in airport ticket-desk queues or at airport gates; which we sincerely regret,” the Aer Lingus spokesperson said.

Unfortunately, as happened last week on many occasions, airports often become operable for a period and then have to cease operations again, when impacted by a new wave of heavy snowfall. In these scenarios guests who have been waiting for an aircraft to arrive at one of our overseas airports receive subsequent messages that the delay has been extended or worse still that, after a lengthy wait, that the flight has been cancelled.

Communication issues

“Disruption of the scale experienced last week is thankfully a very rare occurrence. We are now focused on refunding those who chose not to travel, reimbursing guests’ hotel expenses and we will use this most unfortunate and rare scenario to learn and improve our service.”

The issues with communications were also to be seen at Dublin Airport itself.

e735eb3f-562a-4a64-81de-53f52e47d0ab (1) Chaos at Dublin Airport pictured on Tuesday, 27 February

One Irish man, who lives in the south of Spain with his wife and three children, finally flew home on Tuesday, seven days (and multiple cancellations) after he was due to do so. His complaint stemmed from a perceived lack of communication (and a lack of emergency customer service officials for the situation at hand) at Dublin Airport where the backlog of cancelled flights had created chaos.

“I’m annoyed I had to go through this, I’m annoyed my family had to go through this,” he said. “At one stage they were suggesting we wouldn’t be able to fly until next Tuesday. That would’ve been two weeks over our initial departure date, for what was only supposed to be a three-day trip.”

You’d assume you’d be moved onto the next available flight but that’s not what happens. And when you inquire about using another airline their hands are tied about what companies they can partner with. You can’t knock ground staff or customer service here. It’s management who need to be held accountable.

Read: At least three people injured in a knife attack on the streets of Vienna

Read: Father accused of murdering his baby told doctor who arrived on scene to ‘do something’

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