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July 21, 2010    

Easyjet flights delayed or cancelled as crews unavailable

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by Brian Turner
Easyjet flights delayed or cancelled as crews unavailable

Only 48% of Easyjet flights from Gatwick were on time over the past month, according to statistics released by the airport, representing one of the worst records of any international airline.

The official excuse from Easyjet is that air traffic control strikes across Europe were to blame - but are unable to account as to why no other airline appears comparably hit.

However, Easyjet employees have a simpler explanation - Easyjet has more flights scheduled than crews available. The result is that Easyjet simply cannot support the number of flights it is claiming to offer.

According to Easyjet staff working from Gatwick, the issue of lack of available crews has become a serious problem that is demoralising members. One flight crew attendant, who wished to remain anonymous, said, “The situation is really bad. Someone at Luton [Easyjet head office] is going to take a hard fall for this mess.”

Many Easyjet flight crew are already applying to rival airlines, especially British Airways and Virgin, to escape the problem situation with Easyjet. “I want to run a good service and keep people happy,” said one flight attendant. “I shouldn’t have to manage such a poor experience, just because managers at head office are trying to cut corners so sharply they stop the company running properly.”

Compensation claims

The situation, of course, has already resulted in untold misery for holidaymakers who either find that their flights are cancelled, or seriously delayed. Not only does this cause unnecessary stress and upset, it can result in travellers missing connecting flights, hotel and cruise bookings, leaving them very much out of pocket.

However, at least affected travellers can take some comfort from EU regulations that force airlines to compensate travellers for flights which are delayed or cancelled.

According to the Air Transport Users Council, when a flight is delayed for 3 hours or more, travellers are eligible to claims compensation of 200 euros per passenger for flight distances of up to 1500km, and varying levels of compensation of between 300-600 euros per affected passenger for flight distances longer than this.

In addition, passengers are also able to claim costs for food and drink caused by any delay.

Unfortunately, despite that good news, airlines are generally unwilling to compensate directly and can be expected to drag their feet and require a court action to force them to pay up.

While many claims can be filed via small claims court (up to £5,000 in England and Wales) this means an extra unnecessary stress for affected passaengers already reeling from a travel nightmare.

According to consumer help website, Flight Mole, “You are likely to get a brush off of some description. They may even take their time in giving you a brush off. So as time passes and interest wanes-and all you passengers go their separate ways-that concentration of interest just dissipates.”

In the event of a court action, once found guilty, if an airline does not pay the compensation, the EU can fine the airline 5000 euros per affected passanger on the flight.

Additionally, airlines have an opportunity to avoid providing compensation, by claiming a defence of “extraordinary circumstances”, and reportedly will often claim a generic “technical fault” to try and imply delays were out of their reasonable control.

Even more seriously, it appears that Easyjet pilots are currently being told by their head office to lie on delayed departures, and announce that the problem was caused by “French missile testing in the Bay of Biscay”, in order to pre-empt compensation claims with a declaration of “extraordinary circumstances”.

Travel insurance warning

In another blow to Easyjet passengers, they are being warned to check their travel insurance to ensure they have proper coverage.

This has been highlighted by Aviva, one of the UK’s largest insurers, who claim that only international flights are covered on their own travel insurance.

This means that if you are returning from aboard and miss a domestic connection, Aviva says they will not cover any domestic costs, not least missed connections and hotel requirements - even though the company does not advertise the domestic exemption on their travel insurance sales page, nor will all sales assistants provide information on this exclusion.

Even in the event of a claim for a delay, an Aviva spokesperson stated that their travel insurance only pays out £25 per passenger on a delayed flight, a sum unlikely to cover many domestic connections and hotel costs as required.

Easyjet flight chaos to continue over summer

Overall, while the UK aviation industry is regarded as well regulated, the recent farce of Easyjet being unable to crew all of their flights shows just how exposed and vulnerable its passengers are.

Not only are passengers expected to take court action to reclaim costs from an airline, they may also be inflicted with substandard insurance cover by insurers who are not upfront with exclusions.

In the meantime, passenger misery with Easyjet flights is expected to continue over the summer period. According to an Easyjet staff member, there is little hope for an end to the situation until the low peak flight season begins in September.

ADDED: An article on the Sky News website reveals that Sir Stelios Haji-Ioanou, the owner of the easyGroup empire who licences the easy brand to the airline, has threatened the airline with the withdrawal of the “Easy” brand, and insisted delays are indeed due to poor management and staffing levels.

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