Boarding denials and ghost flights with Aer Lingus

Pricewatch: To mess up one booking may be regarded as a misfortune; to mess up two looks like carelessness

The high season of overseas travel is upon us and in the weeks ahead millions of people will be coming and going from this island as locals seek out overseas sun and overseas visitors seek out local charm.

Being an island we rely on airlines to look after us but they are sometimes found wanting, as the stories we have been told in recent days highlight.

“I know you probably receive a lot of these flight-related emails, but I am really at the end of my tether dealing with Aer Lingus and I’m not sure where else I can turn,” begins the mail we got from a reader called Aishling.

She travelled with her husband and daughter to Geneva for a week in March and booked return flights with Aer Lingus at a cost of about €600.


“We checked in for both legs before we left Dublin, so were assigned our seats for the home flight and had our boarding cards,” she says. “We a lovely skiing trip in France, and made our way to Geneva on Sunday, March 26th for our morning flight.”

The family handed their boarding cards and passports to airport staff in Geneva. Aer Lingus does not have a presence in the Swiss airport, so the documentation was assessed by local handling agents. It was at this point the trip started to go off the rails in a big way.

“The ground handling agent said they didn’t have a record of us on the flight,” Aishling says. “They searched over and over and again, using different permutations of our name, booking reference, ticket number, assigned seats, etc, but could not find us on the flight.”

The family were told to call Aer Lingus customer care, which they did. The Aer Lingus staff confirmed that they could see that the three people were booked on the flight and “all was in order”.

But all was not in order.

Bizarre as it might sound, the staff in Switzerland pointed the family to a ticket desk where they could buy three more tickets for the flight they already had tickets for

“The Aer Lingus agent talked to the ground handling agent (on our phone) but between them they could not come to a solution for getting us on to the flight on our original ticket. It was getting very close to the check-in closing time. There was no other flight to Dublin on that day. We had to get home for work and school the next day, and we had another teen at home too.”

So, bizarre as it might sound, the staff in Switzerland pointed the family to a ticket desk where they could buy three more tickets for the flight they already had tickets for.

“The Aer Lingus staff member on the phone was unable to advise us to buy the tickets (we were looking for this as a formality, we knew we needed to buy the tickets as no other solution was being offered to us!). So with minutes to spare we spent another €2,136 on three new tickets for the flight. The time was so close to the boarding that the ground handlers brought us through the staff security check to get us there in time for the flight.”

When Aishling got back to Ireland she sat down with her receipts and tried to raise a claim with Aer Lingus. “My stance was that I wanted a refund for the additional outlay that I had to spend for the new tickets, I’m not looking for anything else,” she says.

“I have had multiple calls, and updated forms multiple times, and discussed with multiple customer care agents, with each one assuring me that whatever action they took would solve my problem.”

She then outlines how the Aer Lingus customer service system worked for her. “Basically there’s a ‘contact form’ which you fill in to outline your issue. It seems the options you choose really have an impact on how your form gets routed. When you raise a claim or update it you send it but you can’t log on to see what details you had put in. When you are looking for a refund the form has to be reviewed by the refunds/claims team but you can never speak directly to them.

“You can only speak to the customer service team, and they can’t speak to the claims team either. If you want to try to communicate with the claims team you have to do so via another contact form, citing your original case reference. But again, you don’t receive any confirmation that your message has been sent, or what you said, you have to just wait to see if the claims agent emails you back, which could be over a week away. And you can’t respond to any emails they sent you.”

Aishling says she is “useless” at using this system. To be fair to her, we can’t imagine we’d be any better.

When she first lodged her complaint she “erroneously put our original booking reference against it, and was told that I couldn’t get a refund as the ‘ticket has flown and been utilised’. (They clearly didn’t read my outline). Another time I was told that I needed a refund claim for the original ticket and a compensation claim for the new ticket. I didn’t necessarily agree with this but the agent insisted and told me that they would raise the claims internally on my behalf. After a few weeks with no contact I called to find that ‘something had been wrongly entered on one of the claims’ (by Aer Lingus) so the claim was ‘stalled’, and he would sort it out for me.”

She says that soon after that she received an email from an agent inviting her to provide her bank details, which she had already provided, but she couldn’t email to tell them that, so she “diligently” sent the details again.

“Now today I received an email from ‘Brian’ telling me that they were sending me €750, being compensation of €250 each for being denied boarding under EU directive 261, and this was in full and final settlement of my claim. My claim was for €2,136!

“I called customer service again, I begged to be able to speak to ‘Brian’ who had emailed me but, alas that, is not possible. In sheer frustration I cried on the phone to the customer service agent asking him how it was possible that we had spent nearly €2,500 on flights to get us home (including the original tickets), for some technical reason that Aer Lingus had never explained to us, and that I wasn’t even going to get half of that back as compensation?”

She says that the customer service agent reviewed the details of the claim “and said that ‘Brian’ mustn’t have understood what was going on and he would send a message to Brian trying to explain. I now await some sort of contact from ‘Brian’ confirming that he now understands the issue and will refund me the full amount of the new flights purchased.

“As far as I am concerned every single customer service agent I have spoken to has ‘understood’ my story and assured me that I would get the refund/compensation (even using the wrong word here gets you down the wrong path to solution!).”

Now, if you’re still with us after all that we’d not be surprised is your head is about to explode with the stress of it all. We know that our head was close to that point when we first read Aishling’s story.

We got in touch with the airline and received the following statement: We appreciate the disruption to the [customer’s] family’s travel plans and sincerely apologise. This was an extremely rare occurrence which occurred due to an issue with their ticket which we are currently investigating with our third-party service provider in Geneva. Our customer relations team have reached out to the family and all additional expenses incurred have been reimbursed.

Second incident

To mess up one booking may be regarded as a misfortune; to mess up two looks like carelessness and while Aer Lingus may well be correct in describing the incident as “extremely rare” we did hear another story which was as frustrating.

“On January 22nd, 2022, my wife and I booked flights from Dublin to Washington DC for ourselves and our infant daughter,” writes a reader called Jack.

While the flights were booked directly with Aer Lingus on its website, the outbound leg was being operated in partnership with United Airlines.

On March 12th, 2022, Jack received a notification of a schedule change for that outbound flight which, he was told, was now due to leave at 12:15pm, some 40 minutes earlier than originally planned. The flight was still to be operated by United Airlines.

Fast forward to May 2022 when Jack “wanted to try to arrange seats for the flight so that we would sit together. As the flight was operated by United, I went on to their website and pasted in the United-specific booking reference. It came back saying the reservation was cancelled. I pasted in the Aer Lingus booking reference, and the same issue came up.”

It was a concern but the Aer Lingus app was still showing that the flight was leaving as scheduled. Jack tweeted both Aer Lingus and United and United responded to say it was an Aer Lingus issue as it was Aer Lingus which had sold him the ticket.

He says the Irish-based airline “confirmed that the flight was due to operate ‘as planned’ and that we would be advised of any changes. Checking the app again showed the flight was scheduled as normal. I was able to reissue the booking confirmation on May 23rd, 2022, that showed the flight as confirmed, albeit now with references to “operated by United” no longer present. It now stated operated by Aer Lingus themselves.”

So Jack contacted Aer Lingus again and was told the flight was to be operated by United as planned.

When I searched for our flight, it was not there at all. There was no reference to it being there and cancelled – it was not there in any way, shape or form

Then, last June, just days before the flight was due to leave, he logged on to the Dublin Airport website to check the departures for the coming days.

“When I searched for our flight, it was not there at all. There was no reference to it being there and cancelled – it was not there in any way, shape or form.”

The only flight from Dublin to Washington on that day was leaving at 12:35pm and was operated by Aer Lingus with a different flight number to the one he had.

“We had not received any communication to inform us that our flight had been changed/cancelled/altered or similar. I rang the Aer Lingus customer service line immediately, and after at least 2½ hours got through to an agent who checked his system and assured me the flight was operating as normal and we would have no problems whatsoever. I pushed back and he assured me again, all was scheduled as normal. I told the agent to log on to Dublin Airport’s website and check the departure board and he would see the issue. He did so, and he acknowledged the issue. After being off and on hold, the agent rebooked us on the next flight – EI0117 on Sunday, June 5th, 2022, departing at 12:35. This was done without charge.”

There were other charges, however, when it came to rearranging accommodation and getting Covid tests, which were a requirement at that time, redone.

“At a personal level, we had to rearrange all the little things – bus, packing, etc – all with an infant baby! We were able to travel on the rearranged flight that Sunday. On return, I made a claim for EC261 compensation with Aer Lingus on the basis that they did not communicate any change in flights to us whatsoever. The claim was denied. Had I not checked the departure board that Saturday, and instead relied on Aer Lingus’s written and verbal assurances, there’s every chance we would have turned up for a flight that didn’t exist and would have had the trip severely disrupted.”

We got in touch with the airline and in a statement it said it apologised to our reader “for the disruption caused to their travel plans and for the miscommunication regarding their flight. We have, however, looked into this and it appears that we never received any communication from United Airlines to confirm the flight was cancelled. Our customer care team has been in direct communication with the family to resolve the matter. The family have received compensation and have been reimbursed for any additional expenses.”