Wednesday 16 October 2019

Another open letter to Aer Lingus on the occasion of their laughable reply to my earlier one.

A while ago, I complained to Aer Lingus about their impressively atrocious service. They replied impressively atrociously:

Thank you for contacting Aer Lingus.

I was sorry to learn you were affected by the disruption to flight EI937 on July 19, 2019. Please accept my apologies on behalf of Aer Lingus.

The EI937 was diverted to Dublin due to BHD curfew. Aer Lingus deems this an extraordinary circumstance and wish to invoke Article 5 Paragraph 3 of the European Regulation 261/2004.
regrettably, there is no compensation due.

There are no words. Oh, hang on: yes there are, and they're right here:

Dear Aer Lingus,

I received your reply of 22nd August. It is appalling.

Firstly, my complaint to you contained quite a large number of matters to be addressed — indeed, the fact that you had got so much so wrong is exactly why I was complaining. Your response addresses only one of those issues, and that badly.

You have had an opportunity not only to respond to the points I raised, but to refute them. That you have not even tried to do so, I shall take as implicit confirmation that all my complaints were essentially correct. I did say that the onus was on you to dissuade me of the obvious, that your staff diverted your passengers to Dublin, further delaying an already badly delayed flight by a further two hours, for their own selfish benefit. So thanks for confirming that.

The one thing you have actually addressed is this:

The EI937 was diverted to Dublin due to BHD curfew. Aer Lingus deems this an extraordinary circumstance and wish to invoke Article 5 Paragraph 3 of the European Regulation 261/2004.

As I said in my first letter, I fly a lot, so I'm quite familiar with the "extraordinary circumstances" clause and airlines' fondness for invoking it when it does not apply. I have to say, though, that this is the most brazenly ridiculous attempt to do so I have ever seen. It is impressive, in a way, that you have responded to a letter about how your staff insulted my intelligence by insulting my intelligence. But, admirable though chutzpah can be, I'm not convinced it's the ideal way to run a customer service department. A time and a place, and all that.

Here's Belfast City Airport's published opening hours:

Operating hours: flights may only be scheduled to operate between 06:30 hours and 21:30 hours.  Extensions may be granted in exceptional circumstances to facilitate delayed aircraft up to 23:59 hours.

Now, that is interesting. Because, on the occasion in question, no extension was granted, which implies either that Belfast City Airport decided that the circumstances were not exceptional or that you didn't even ask them for an extension in the first place because you decided that the circumstances were not exceptional. Do you wish to claim some quibbling distinction between "exceptional" and "extraordinary"?

The other point about Belfast City's opening hours is that they are completely normal. They haven't changed in years. They are published. I assume that even Aer Lingus has heard about them. They are, in a word, ordinary: the completely literal opposite of extraordinary. Do your customer service staff really have the sheer nerve to gaslight your customers in this way? Or do they just not know what "extraordinary" means? I find myself hoping that they're merely ignorant, as the alternative is that you're paying them to be obnoxious bastards on your behalf.

But perhaps you wish to claim that "extraordinary" carries some technical legal sense in this context, that I am missing. OK. Well, your own website helpfully doesn't define "extraordinary circumstances" beyond:

Compensation can be claimed where you are delayed in arriving at your final destination by more than three hours and that delay arises from causes within our control (rather than extraordinary circumstances which could not have been avoided by taking all reasonable measures).

As luck would have it, though, we're talking about well established law here with loads of precedent, so lots of other people, including the courts, have fleshed that out a bit more than you. For example, here's British Airways, one of your sister airlines, apparently:

If your journey was affected by extraordinary circumstances such as air traffic control decisions, political instability, adverse weather conditions or security risks you may not be able to claim compensation.

Hmm. It doesn't mention opening hours. Perhaps an oversight?

EU Claim says:

An ‘extraordinary circumstance’ is a situation in which the airline is not responsible for the problems with the flight. This includes the following situations:
  • Extreme weather conditions during the flight, such as heavy fog or a storm
  • Natural disasters, such as a volcanic ash cloud
  • Strike action by air traffic control
  • Medical emergency landings
  • Acts of terrorism
  • Situations with passengers on board the airplane
Situations which are not seen as extraordinary circumstances are:
  • Technical faults on the airplane
  • Crew shortages or sickness
  • Strikes by airline personnel 

OK, it's not explicitly addressing the normal published opening hours of an airport, but I have to say this isn't looking much like what you claim it is.

How about the European Commission's own published guidelines?

In accordance with Article 5(3) of the Regulation, an air carrier is exempted from paying compensation in the event of cancellation or delay at arrival if it can prove that the cancellation or delay is caused by extraordinary circumstances which could not have been avoided even if all reasonable measures had been taken. In order to be exempted from the payment of compensation the carrier must therefore simultaneously prove:
  • the existence and the link between the extraordinary circumstances and the delay or the cancellation, and
  • the fact that this delay or cancellation could not have been avoided although it took all reasonable measures.

Well, that first point is interesting, isn't it? Because your flight was badly delayed before you diverted it to Dublin. The only reason that Belfast City closing affected this flight is that it was already late. So I would be particularly interested to see your proof that the flight was delayed as a result of the airport's closure, as such proof would necessarily reverse time and break the laws of physics.

While I am rather enjoying the opportunity to be sarcastic, let's not forget that I have something genuine to be sarcastic about here. Your staff quite thoroughly ruined my day through their utter obnoxiousness, your customer service team can't even be arsed going to the minimal effort of mentioning any of that in their mealy-mouthed mendacious non-apology, and you're refusing to pay the compensation which you are legally obliged to pay. You are clearly hoping that, if you fob me off, I will give up and go away. Good luck with that.

Yours determinedly,

Joseph Kynaston Reeves