Jaillan Yehia

The Travel Tipping Point: Air Passenger Rights

Written by Jaillan Yehia

Post Categories: Opinion

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Right after the UK voted for Brexit, my Canadian partner moved to England with me; both of us giving up life in beautiful British Columbia for a totally different type of life in Blighty  – a country that I wasn’t even sure I was on board with anymore given the result of the vote.

Yet for the years I did live in Canada I had constantly complained to anyone who would listen (so mainly my partner then) about the myriad of ways in which I felt the Canadian consumer was being given the short straw and how much better it was in England.

Happy to be back in England!

When it comes to mobile phone contracts, supermarket shopping, car insurance, utilities, and definitely when planning travel, I couldn’t help but notice that British and European folks have so much more choice.

Brits in particular are being courted constantly by so many brands and we are given endless options, which leads to a far better consumer experience and, bottom line, cheaper prices. And who wouldn’t want cheaper prices?

My theory was further proved when, just over 1 year ago, my Canadian partner boarded a plane in Vancouver to join me in England complete with all his worldly possessions.

Vancouver Skyline

The Vancouver Skyline

I was so excited to go and meet him at the airport, yet just a few hours after his flight took off I was surprised to receive a Twitter message from him. His plane had been delayed; they’d been re-routed to Montreal and what should be a 9-hour journey was now going to take at around 15 hours. He couldn’t get phone service but somehow he was able to tweet to let me know.

Once other passengers noticed that people were tweeting a few joined in – and tweeted me their stories. For example a pregnant lady was told by the Westjet flight attendant that she would have to pay for a pillow, despite the long delay. I was pretty shocked.

View from a Westjet flight

It was already a busy and stressful time for us with the big move, especially as our cat was arriving on a different plane into a different airport the next day and we needed to go and collect him. I actually remember being glad the delay hadn’t affected the cat – well his needs always come first!

The cat – with all the money needed for his flight.

All in all the extensive delay was incredibly unwelcome but the small silver lining was that I assumed we’d be entitled to some compensation, as did the other passengers on that plane, some of whom had missed flight connections and even Eurostar trains to Europe.

Being familiar with European Air Passenger Rights I thought that such a long delay would lead to a pay out – but when investigating I realised that, just as in so many other aspects of a Canadian consumers life, Canadian passengers were out of luck when delayed on a flight – even if it was landing here in Europe.

Air Passenger rights

Lately the subject of air passenger rights has been in the news far more than usual. From the horrific incident with the doctor who was forcibly dragged off a United Airlines flight to the cancellations by Ryanair and the sad collapse of Monarch, it seems that being a passenger on a plane often results in your basic rights being taken away from you, which is something I feel we must resist.

Of course everyone who travels with Ryanair knows what they are signing up for  – I don’t expect complementary food or even pleasant service from the airline but I do expect them to actually fly. One would also expect them to let passengers know that they are entitled to compensation for cancelled flights (because that entitlement is enshrined in law) yet Ryanair wriggled out of that too.

Aarhus Airport Denmark

Ryanair has a monopoly on flights to this airport, in Aarhus

The move by Ryanair to attempt to cancel so many flights with such unacceptably short notice smacked of total contempt for their customers, though it is clear that the reason behind the decision was a lack of pilots who are said to be deserting an employer who makes them pay for their own uniforms.

A year on and my partner has really taken to English life; he now takes multiple supermarket savings, car insurance options, cheap mobile phone contracts and bargain flights within Europe for granted, and he loves English TV.

I noticed TV ads for ABTA and ATOL bonded holidays the other day and realised that he likely had no idea what those terms meant – and that made me consider just how well served the British travel consumer is compared with those in other countries, despite Ryanair and Monarch’s recent debacles.

Coming in to land at Heathrow

Disgruntled passengers can use a flight delay compensation website to check what the rules state and if they are entitled to anything if they are delayed. Most of us use price comparison websites to make sure we’re getting the best flight deal in the first place, plus we are lucky enough to have a free press which is pretty good at keeping us on top of the latest consumer developments.

Unfortunately the latest developments with air passenger compensation is that as us Brits may not be members of the EU much longer the whole issue of passenger rights will be up for grabs again. Maybe it’s time for me to think about moving back to BC after all. Thanks Brexit.

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