Our Italian wedding was ruined by a cancelled Aer Lingus flight

Pricewatch: Journey home from Italy took members of wedding party 33 hours

Aer Lingus flight EI413 was cancelled on August 31st “due to thunderstorms in the Verona region”. Photograph: Frank Grealish

Aer Lingus flight EI413 was cancelled on August 31st “due to thunderstorms in the Verona region”. Photograph: Frank Grealish

 

Managing an airline is a hideously complex business and is made only more complicated by all the variables companies have to deal with, sometimes with very little notice. When they get things right they get very little credit. But when they get things wrong it can seem like the worst thing in the world. And sometimes it can seem like that for very good reason.

So it was for a reader called Jennifer who got married in Italy. On her return journey from Verona everything went absolutely pear-shaped for her and 19 guests.

First off, the Aer Lingus flight they were all due to board on August 31st came up as delayed just after the wedding party arrived at their boarding gate. “There were a number of boarding gates together and a lot of people had filed into this tiny space for flights,” she writes. “We were kept at these gates for three hours. People were feeling faint and children were getting sick.”

She tells us that the roof also was leaking and the space felt airless. “A young child with special needs required his clothing changed and his mother was pleading with the person on the boarding gate to retrieve her luggage to assist him. They would not help,” she says.

Things then took a turn for the worse. Jennifer’s flight came up as cancelled due to thunderstorms in the area and she and all her party received a text message from Aer Lingus advising them to ring a number provided for assistance or to follow a link online to rebook a flight.

“No info was given to us on the ground. They continued to hold us at the boarding gates and eventually got us a shuttle bus back to arrivals to collect our bags. When we got to arrivals we were screamed at in Italian to get out as they did not know what we were doing there. When we refused to leave the doors they eventually let us back into arrivals luggage reclaim.”

She says it took a further hour to retrieve all their luggage. “Some of the passengers had gone back through security in departures as they could not stick the heat and they weren’t allowed back in once the flight was cancelled. They made their way back to arrivals but they would not let them into baggage claim. We had to try and get everyone’s baggage that was stuck on the other side otherwise it was going to lost and found.”

Things did not improve once the luggage was retrieved. “My sister-in-law had managed to get through to the assistance number after being on hold for over an hour. She passed the phone around to as many passengers as she could before the phone went dead so they could try and rebook flights. Some got flights out of Venice for the following morning. Some from Milan the following morning and the majority of us from Milan the following night.”

The next thing was to try to work out how they were going to get to Venice and Milan respectfully. “Rumblings of Chinese whispers began to filter through the crowds saying we should all return to gate 14. Once we arrived there was an employee of Verona airport sorting out flights and accommodation for people.”

Jennifer says the only reason that was being done was because some of the passengers had managed to corner the Verona employee. “A lot of people had left on their own steam and hired cars. We were left waiting in the airport for two hours before the bus arrived. During this time my brother, sister-in-law and their 11-month old baby were travelling to Venice to catch the flight out the next morning. Halfway to Venice she noticed that the date of the flight had been earlier in the day of August 31st and she was once again with no flight home.

“She rang the assistance number again and they told her it was her fault for missing her flight. They would not listen to her explain that they had rebooked her on a flight that had already departed. She was very upset at this time as she had a little baby and was running out of food and supplies for him. She was given the option to fly to Amsterdam and from there to Ireland on the Monday. She obviously had to refuse that.

“They then booked her on the late Milan flight out the next day. She had to travel from Venice to Milan the following day with a baby and no supplies left. My mum took a taxi to a supermarket in Milan which cost her €40 to buy supplies for the baby when they arrived in Milan. All of us spent the night and day in a dingy hotel near Malpensa airport.”

The nightmare was not yet over. Once they all got to the check-in desk at the airport in Milan they got texts to say the new flight was also delayed. “This straight away set off alarm bells for everyone. My brother and sister-in-law went to check in and they were told their baby wasn’t booked on the flight and they would have to ring Aer Lingus. My sister-in-law burst into tears at this point from sheer exhaustion and stress of all the travel she had done with her little baby. I demanded airport staff sort it out for them and that we weren’t leaving the desk until it was done.”

Jennifer was walking away from the gate when she noticed yet another mother in floods of tears at the check-in desk. I ran back to her and she told me herself her husband and their six children weren’t booked on the flight and they were telling them to ring Aer Lingus. I reassured her that there were plenty of seats as I had found out there was only 50 of us on that flight. The man behind the desk wasn’t very helpful and just kept saying: ‘I’m not Aer Lingus. Nothing I can do.’ They eventually got sorted after standing at that check-in desk for an hour. It took us a total of 33 hours to travel from Italy to Ireland.”

Jennifer says the aircraft that was due to land in Verona for them was diverted to Venice and says it left Venice airport that night “with very few people on board”.

She says the sheer upset, turmoil and distress that Aer Lingus “put people through was appalling. I am now sick as a result of it with a head cold from all the stress. We are newlyweds and our entire wedding has been ruined as a result of this cancelled flight and the events that followed. We had wedding guests who travelled from Australia to Italy and returned on August 31st also hours after our scheduled flight and landed in Australia before we had ever even left Italy.

“Why were we not sent to Venice to get that plane? How could they book people on flights that had already left seven hours previously? Why were we all booked on different flights? They completely ruined our wedding experience we felt terrible for all our guests and for putting them through what we did.”

Aer Lingus response

That all sounds horrendous, right? So we contacted Aer Lingus.

This is what it said in response: “ The aircraft due to operate flight EI413 was diverted to Venice. Aer Lingus flight EI413 was cancelled on August 31st due to thunderstorms in the Verona region. While in such instances we seek to re-accommodate guests as seamlessly as possible, adverse weather impacts the overall operation at the airport and our teams on the ground do everything they can to deal with very challenging circumstances for guests.

“Those impacted by the cancellation of Aer Lingus flight EI413 on August 31st were rebooked on the next available Aer Lingus services departing from alternative Italian airports. Where possible some guests were re-accommodated on scheduled flights later that same day, with the remainder on the following day. Guests at Verona Airport were provided with meal vouchers together with ground transportation and hotel accommodation as required. Due to the thunderstorms in the region, ground transport was also severely impacted. We sincerely apologise to all affected guests for this experience and any inconvenience caused and will ensure they are reimbursed for all reasonable expenses incurred.”

Difficulty in cancelling Eir broadband contract

“I would be very thankful of any advice you can give me,” starts an email from a reader we will call Mary. For many months she has been trying to cancel her son’s broadband contract with Eir on the grounds that he has “a serious mental illness and has been unable to live at his own house since last year”.

Mary tried and failed have the account closed when she called into an Eir shop and when she rang the provider’s 1901 number. “I wrote to the company on February 6th using an address on the back of a bill and enclosed a cheque covering rental to February and asking for immediate cancellation. I sent this by registered post and kept a copy,” she says.

“However, the monthly bills kept arriving. Now it’s €313.07. I answered by letter sending receipt of registered letter but nothing changed. It would seem that my cheque was not cashed.”

She was dismayed to get correspondence recently with the phrase “notice of further action” displayed prominently on it. “This has caused me great concern as my son’s mental condition is poor and I need to keep this threat from him at the moment,” she writes.

“Despite trying several phone numbers and calling to an Eir shop I have not been able to explain the problem to anybody that can help. If I do pay the amount due I fear they will connect the service again and more bills will arrive.”

This should not have been as difficult as it has been and we contacted the company and the problem was resolved within days, after which we received the following statement.

“Our customer care team have been in contact with this customer and his mother to ensure they have been updated on the account status. The delay was caused as the registered letter requesting the account closure was forwarded to a postal address which is no longer in use. The account was closed on the 19th of June and the balance was cleared following that. We have apologised for the delay and both parties are satisfied with the outcome.”

Couple fear ‘future has just vanished’ over small debt

Next up is an email from a woman who was clearly in a state of some distress when she wrote it and fearful that a small financial misstep had cost her and her family their future. She made her concerns clear in the subject field of the mail: “Our future has just vanished.”

She and her husband have been living overseas for several years and left good jobs in Dublin for opportunities abroad that “afforded us to move up the career ladder in senior positions within our industry”.

She admits to being “very naive about finance” and says that when she left Ireland she “did a terrible job at tying up loose ends, and didn’t change my address from my rental property in Dublin to my ‘home’ address. Mea culpa”.

We would imagine this is a common enough mistake, particularly among younger people who move overseas soon after they finish their education.

So, this reader had a credit card, one she had had since her student days and she “had finally got on top of before it I left. I haven’t used it in over three years and thought it was paid off”, she continues.

It wasn’t and just before she had written to us she had checked he online banking. “My husband and I still have joint savings of 30K in Ireland and it was then that I realised that some of the credit card loan was still outstanding and I had missed some payments to the tune of just under €75 earlier this year. I paid the card off in full straight away once online.”

She immediately phoned her bank but the news was not good. “I was told that due to the fact that they couldn’t contact me, this €75 of missed payments had put me on the credit barred list with all lenders in Ireland for the next five years. The bank said that they can’t do anything once I am on that list.

“Our whole future has just evaporated, no hope of us coming back to Ireland in any near future which is just devastating because we’re expecting our first baby. I’ve just been constantly crying since I found out and can’t believe I’ve been so stupid. I’ve screwed over my husband’s future, my unborn child’s future and cannot come back to the country I love because of this minor error in the grand scheme of things.”

She asked if we had any advice and concluded her email with the words: “I’m just absolutely drained and devastated and have no idea what to do now.”

We contacted her immediately and the first piece of advice we had was not to panic. We checked with several brokers and bankers who specialise in mortgages and they confirmed that while the missed payments are a black mark and could well have an impact on future borrowing it is not the end of the road.

Yes, the missed payments will see her name appear on the central credit register for a period but that does not automatically mean she will be barred from borrowing to buy a home for the next five years. The amount is very small and the circumstances are very understandable. She also has good job and a lot of savings. These things count for a lot in the grand scheme of things and the bottom line is banks are in the business of making money off loans and while the bank connected to the missed payment may turn its nose up at her in the future, another bank will be more inclined to look at her application, particularly if she had her husband tick all the other boxes.

We suggested that when she does come home a good mortgage broker should be able to sort things out for her, and we reminded her that even in the worst of all scenarios – a scenario which would see her denied a mortgage over this indiscretion – we are not talking about forever. Five years is not long passing.

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