Some of my family and their friends are currently on holiday in Spain and their return flight is – or, rather, was – scheduled for tonight. That return flight is with Easyjet – they always fly with Easyjet because Easyjet flies to where they always go. It’s a no-brainer.
Obviously, though, there is a bit of a problem at the moment – the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland, which has been erupting, leading to an ash cloud which is disrupting flights. The flight my family and their friends were booked on, like many thousands of other flights, has been cancelled. And that’s fair enough – it’s far better to keep people grounded, albeit stranded overseas, than to take them up into the air when there is a risk that their aeroplane could be brought unceremoniously down.
However, being stranded overseas, they need to be accommodated until further notice, and that costs money, and not only that, at least one of the people in the group I’m talking about is self-employed, so he’s losing money while he’s stuck over there. (Again, quite probably like a great many people who are stranded overseas).
I’ve just looked at their booking on the Easyjet website. (I made the original booking on their behalf – I always do; these are people so computer illiterate that making a booking for a flight seems to them like something needing several years at university to be able to do). When I looked yesterday, because the flight restrictions only extended as far as 1pm today, the flight was still listed as scheduled, but now that the restrictions extend until 1am, their flight is cancelled, and there’s a big yellow box on the page for the booking which says:
One or more flights on this booking has been delayed or cancelled, entitling you to a free transfer to another flight. You may be also entitled to a refund, depending on the severity of the disruption (see Carriers Regulations for details).
To arrange your free transfer to an alternative flight, click ‘Amend’.
If you are entitled to a refund or credit please contact Customer Services. If you do not wish to amend your booking then no further action is required. Your booking will remain unchanged.”
The ‘Amend booking’ button will enable me to book them onto another flight – though, obviously, the alternative flight has to be one that is currently listed as available – the earliest one I can book them from Malaga to Bristol is next Monday, with availability for other destinations varying – but in all cases, it means staying where they are for a little longer, which means the costs of staying there, as I said. And, of course, the situation could continue – if I booked them on a midweek flight from Malaga to Stanstead, for example, it’s possible that as the situation continues that flight could be grounded, and they’d have to stay longer still.
So, what of that cost?
Apparently, according to EU regulation 261, the airline has to provide accommodation and meals when passengers are unable to fly because of delayed/cancelled flights for a day or more. (The wording is obviously more detailed and complicated than that, but that’s the important point). If I click on ‘Amend Booking’ to change their booking to a later (still scheduled and available) flight, there’s nothing presented to me to explain how to fund their continued stay in the meantime.
Let’s click on the link to contact customer services, then. In other words, just ask them:
This answer is no longer available.”
(As a side note, the above error isn’t new, it’s not caused by the Easyjet site being overwhelmed or anything like that – I’ve encountered that error before now when trying to find a way to contact them about something else).
As it happens, I’ve also looked on the Carriers Regulations page linked to from the yellow ‘disrupted booking’ box. That link is to a section which outlines that Easyjet will provide hotel accommodation and so on in the event of flight cancellations – so now we’re getting somewhere, and scrolling down a page or so and there’s an 0871 number. I was already at this stage, in fact, before deciding to write this post.
The title is a clue as to why I’m writing it.
As I said above, the people on this booking are computer illiterate. I’ve found this information from the comfort of my home – but if it wasn’t for me, they wouldn’t know where to start, other than being able to get internet access (which would itself easy enough). The printed ‘ticket’ which they have with them (which until recently included a mass of advertising) is minimalistic and contains not much more than the booking information. It doesn’t contain any useful method of contacting Easyjet in the event of any problems.
I can provide the number to my family, and they can ring it – but being an 0871 number, I suspect calling from a mobile phone in Spain might be costly (that number is actually quoted as 10p per minute – but that will be from UK landlines). I have no doubt that when I speak to them shortly, they’ll ask me to call it from here on their behalf.
What I think Easyjet – and indeed any airline that doesn’t – should do is include an appropriate number for each of its destinations. That number should be included on the printed booking. It can be the number of their office at the airport, or it can be redirected to a more central call centre – whatever – but the point is that they should provide their passengers with an easy, and preferably cheap, means to contact them, a means which is clearly printed on the paperwork they will have with them when overseas.
They should also provide some clarity for situations such as the current one: that yellow box, rather than (or in addition to) a link to their carriers regulations, should include a link to a page explaining the current situation and providing clear and simple instructions on what to do – especially with the ambiguous situation with providing accommodation if the booking is changed online. (That won’t necessarily help for computer illiterate types stranded overseas unless they have someone they can contact who is able to access the page, but it would be a massive step in the right direction).
And, finally, they should sort out the links on their website – a link to a page of contact details for customer services really should link to a page of contact details for customer services, not to an error. That’s a really big ‘FAIL’ for Easyjet, right there.