Is this the worst customer (dis)service story we have ever heard?

Pricewatch: Almost from the get go, a family journey from Belfast to New Zealand descended into an epic ‘fiasco’ involving Aer Lingus

Over the years, Pricewatch has dealt with thousands of complaints from readers of this newspaper so it takes a lot to shock us. This story shocked us. And it shocked us as much for the multiple ways the reader was let down by Aer Lingus and the number of fruitless hoops they were made to jump through as anything else.

It starts with a journey to Ireland from the other side of the world.

Almost from the get go the journey descended into a “fiasco” of epic proportions for the family from Christchurch who had to endure cancelled flights, lost bags, disappearing strollers, mixed messages and the pain of being sent from pillar to post and then back to the pillar again repeatedly over many days as they tried to make their way both to Ireland and then home again.

“As a last resort I am sending this email in the hopes that it will result in someone from Aer Lingus taking ownership of this fiasco or another airline possibly being able to put us on flights home that won’t break the bank,” the mail we received from Holly Dugan a couple of weeks ago began.


She, her husband and their five-month-old son live in New Zealand and travelled to her husband’s family in Northern Ireland before Christmas. It was the first time they had been home in over five years and was to be the first time his family would meet the newest arrival so, as you can imagine, excitement levels were pretty high.

The check-in staff at the airport called Aer Lingus, ‘waited on hold and got hung up on. Twice – both half an hour phone calls’

The Dugans arrived in Heathrow days before Christmas, as tired as you might expect. “We had booked a return flight to Belfast through Emirates, the flights between London and Belfast were with Aer Lingus,” she wrote.

But that flight was cancelled and rebooked for the following day. These things happen and the family, while disappointed to have missed a day of their homecoming and forced to stay overnight in an airport hotel with their infant child were happy enough to get on with things.

When they eventually arrived in Belfast their baby stroller was missing as was their luggage. Two days later the suitcases showed up. But the stroller was AWOL and only appeared in Belfast on January 5th, 17 days after they did and not long before they were due to travel home.

“That is the beginning of our Aer Lingus debacle,” she wrote. On January 11th – a Wednesday – the family travelled to Belfast Airport for the start of their long journey back to the other side of the world. “Nothing was amiss according to the Emirates app [but] check-in staff advised we were not booked on to the Aer Lingus flight. All our other flights were showing but not this one.”

Holly called Aer Lingus who said she had to call Emirates so she called Emirates who advised that “Aer Lingus had taken control of our booking and according to their system we were confirmed on the flight.”

So Holly called Aer Lingus again, again and was repeatedly told it was “not their problem”.

The check-in staff at the airport also called Aer Lingus, “waited on hold and got hung up on. Twice – both half an hour phone calls.” So the couple, now pretty desperate to get to London for their flights to New Zealand, tried to book on to the flight themselves. They tried online but it was too close to the flight time. The check-in staff at the airport called Aer Lingus to book for them and were told they could not book as check-in was closed.

“The check in staff member said ‘I am check in and I am holding this flight open for this family’. But again they were told check in was closed.”

An alternative was a flight with British Airways but that airline could not guarantee the families luggage would follow them to Christchurch and there would not be enough time between flights for then to collect it and check it on to the next flight.

So the last option was to get on to the last Aer Lingus flight of the day to London. “The check-in staff were able to have the plane delay its departure for us. I called Aer Lingus, the rep attempted to book us on to the flight. After over half an hour she had booked my husband and myself but needed duty manager approval to book our baby. At this point the plane had to depart.”

So the couple missed that flight too.

The fact that we had now been delayed from our final destination by nearly 48 hours due to Aer Lingus errors and had been sent walking between terminals with a now 5-month-old baby for hours was irrelevant to them

They managed to get a rerouting via Doha but couldn’t get a booking reference for the new flights because they were told – in error – that the booking had been done via a travel agent. They thought they had it sorted after multiple calls to Aer Lingus and to Emirates and travelled to Belfast Airport again where staff – unsurprisingly – remembered them from the day before.

Their bags were checked but Aer Lingus staff said they could only issue the boarding passes for the first leg of the flight and they would have to pick up the others at the Emirates desk in Heathrow. When they got to Emirates in Heathrow they were told there had been no onward booking made.

Emirates called Aer Lingus and were told it was a travel agent booking. “The woman from Emirates told them she could see that they – Aer Lingus – had reissued the tickets. Aer Lingus advised we needed to go to their service desk in terminal 2 and that someone would be there until 9pm. We got to the service desk in terminal 2 at 8:55pm and were told no one could help us. Eventually after refusing to leave and pleading for help a man came and we were booked on flights with Qatar Airways for the next day, given bus passes and a hotel booking for the night.”

The following day, a Thursday, the family arrived at terminal 4 before 6am to check in with Qatar Airways. “We were told we were not booked on the flight even though we had paperwork from Aer Lingus. The Qatar Airways rep gave us a print out of what the system said advising the booking was not confirmed. They would not call Aer Lingus for us. Back to terminal 2 we go. Phone calls and lack of help followed. The service desk rep booked us on to flights via the USA with United in an effort to help which we could make if we could get the travel visa’s approved in time. The website kept timing out, we were not going to make it. Another call to Aer Lingus and then with the help of service staff we were booked on a flight with Emirates for later that day. Aer Lingus called Emirates to confirm it was all sorted while we were there. Off to terminal 3.”

By our count the family had now visited three of the five terminals in Heathrow over two days to no avail.

When the family arrived at the Emirates desk to check in, Holly noticed something was amiss. The E-Ticket they had been provided with by Aer Lingus had the Dubai to Australia leg flight dated December 15th, 2023.

“We hoped this was just an error and tried to check in. Emirates could not locate our booking and called Aer Lingus. They eventually found the booking for myself and my husband but no booking for our baby and no booking for a connecting flight out of Dubai. The Emirates staff, it turns out, had told Aer Lingus on the phone that there was no booking showing for the infant prior to us being given the E-Tickets however Aer Lingus sent us on our way anyway. Emirates were able to hold open the booking for Glen and I but Aer Lingus needed to add our son to the booking. The bigger issue was that there were no seats available on a flight out of Dubai for us.”

So back again the family went to Terminal 2. They made more calls to Aer Lingus and were offered a flight which would see them “stuck in Dubai for six days”.

“The fact that we had now been delayed from our final destination by nearly 48 hours due to Aer Lingus errors and had been sent walking between terminals with a now 5-month-old baby for hours was irrelevant to them. At this point I couldn’t handle being given bookings that ended up not existing and trying to breastfeed an infant in airport terminals any longer.

‘Funnily enough there were only first class tickets available on such short notice’

“I asked the rep to put us on the next Aer Lingus flight back to Belfast so we could regroup and come up with a plan. The rep told me she couldn’t do that as we would lose the value of our booking. She told me we could ask for a refund from Emirates and then seek reimbursement for our costs to get home from Aer Lingus via a Post Travel Enquiry form.

“By now we were broken and I asked the service/ticket desk rep (who had been trying to help all day) how I could book tickets for the next flight and ensure our bags followed us. She gave us some vouchers, told us to get a coffee and she would look at our flights. Sometime later I went back to find she had made some calls and arranged for us to be put on the flight free of charge. We checked in and again asked about our baggage. We were told they would need to be moved from terminal 3 but that they wouldn’t be far behind.” The next day started at 4:30am in a hotel in London and they arrived in Belfast at around 4:50pm.

In what might come as a surprise to absolutely no one at this point, their baggage did not arrive.

“Knowing the drill we completed a delayed baggage report with a service rep and were provided with a tracking reference. We finally made it back to my in laws house at 6:30pm with a very overtired and upset baby.”

It was now Saturday and the reference the family had been given for our baggage did not work on the site they were trying to use to trace their luggage.

It is a wonder their heads did not explode at this point. Ours almost did and we were only reading the story.

On the Sunday – four full days after they had first set off on their journey home – they had a small victory when two of their bags arrived back in Belfast.

It was at this point that Holly contacted Pricewatch.

“This is beyond a joke, the contact centre staff do not have the ability or authority to do anything other than what their system allows yet won’t escalate the issue higher. They keep telling us it’s a travel agent booking or to contact Emirates. All the Emirates staff we have dealt with have tried to help us but this is not their stuff up to fix. Is it too much to ask for someone at Aer Lingus to take some ownership of this whole mess? We just want our last two items of luggage to arrive and to go home without having to spend all of our savings; money that was meant to cover our mortgage so I could spend more time with our son before going back to work.”

We contacted Aer Lingus minutes after reading the mail and stressed the urgency of the situation.

Hours later we received the following statement. “We apologise to the Dugan family for their experience travelling with Aer Lingus. We recognise that it has fallen significantly short of the level of service we seek to provide to our customers. Our Customer Care team is in direct communication with them and has rebooked their travel to depart from Dublin tomorrow. We will do everything possible to ensure they reach their end destination with no further disruption.”

We left it at that for a couple of weeks and then, last Wednesday we made contact with Holly again.

The good news is she read our mail from her home in New Zealand.

She told us that she had been contacted by Aer Lingus early morning on the 16th after the intervention of Pricewach “and had flights booked home for the next day. Funnily enough there were only first class tickets available on such short notice and we had to get from Belfast to Dublin via taxi. My understanding is that there was some kind of technical error which stopped the call centre staff being able to put us back on to our original flight from BHD to LHR.

“The stupid thing is if they had told us that, (rather than putting us on hold then hanging up) we would have just paid to get on the flight ourselves, which would have saved us a lot of hassle and Aer Lingus a lot of money. We arrived home in Christchurch on the 18th and plan on not going near an airport any time soon!”