CHECK-IN I arrived at Nice airport at 1745, quite early for my 2130 flight (U25072) to London Gatwick, as I was transferring from Moncao with Heliair and the last departure was at 1730 on a Sunday. (Flights depart from Nice and Monaco every 30 minutes and cost €210 return. A taxi will cost about €100 each way.)
As I had already checked in online, printed my boarding pass, and was travelling with hand baggage only, I headed upstairs to the departure area of Terminal 2. To pass the time, I went to a pleasant bar up a flight of stairs just above the security area, had a drink and a bite to eat, and caught up on some reading.
At 1900 I noticed that my flight was delayed, but it did not say for how long. At 2015, I went through security, where there was no queue. As I was putting my belt on and packing my plastic bag of liquids into my luggage, I thought I heard an announcement that said the 2130 Easyjet flight to London Gatwick for delayed four hours, 45 minutes but as it was not repeated I thought I might have got it wrong.
The airside departure screens were no more helpful as the flight still said “delayed”. I looked around for a member of staff to ask but there was no one, so at 2030 I decided to go through passport control (there was no queue) and wait in departure lounge B. Once I had taken a seat near the gates for the Gatwick and Luton flights, I noticed that the other London-bound flight was also delayed, for about an hour (set to depart at 2215).
By 2120, there had still been no repetition of the announcement regarding the Gatwick flight and there were no staff to be seen, so I asked a woman sitting next to me if she knew what was going on. She said it was indeed delayed for more than four hours, so I decided to go back into departure lounge A and find a member of staff. At first, one of the men at passport control wouldn’t let me, but after I insisted, his colleague told him to let me through.
I then had to walk all the way to the far end to Easyjet desk A1, where there was one member of staff. When I asked him what was happening with the flight he said: “Didn’t you hear the announcement? It’s delayed four and a half hours because of a technical failure with the aircraft in London. It hasn’t even taken off yet. They are giving out food and drinks vouchers in departure lounge B, if you want to go and get some.” (Of, course, I knew they hadn’t been as I had been there for the last hour.)
I asked if he thought the plane would actually depart from Nice that night, given it might not even land until 2am, and he said he didn’t know. I asked if it would be possible to be put on to the Luton flight but he said it was full, and as far as getting a seat on another flight the following day, that too would be impossible as they were fully booked for the next two days. He added that I could get a form to fill in to apply for compensation but would need to go back to departure B to get it from a member of staff when the gate opened for the Luton flight.
Back in departure lounge B at 2150, the Luton flight was boarding, but I decided to wait until everyone had been processed before trying to talk to the only member of staff on the scene. At 2220, myself and a number of other people tried to ask her what was happening with the Gatwick flight, but she said she didn’t know and walked down the corridor towards the airbridge, closing the glass doors behind her.
At 2235 a member of Nice airport ground staff appeared and I asked him if he could tell me what was going on. He said they didn’t know but that it might be cancelled. He said that he or another member of staff would be back in ten minutes to confirm one way or the other. As the flight still hadn’t landed, to my knowledge, and there was no plane at the gate, I assumed it would be cancelled. At 2245 the flight disappeared from the departure board with the flights for the following day appearing in its place. The airport was closing and still there had been no announcement.
At 2250 another member of staff came to inform everybody that the flight had indeed been cancelled and that if we collected our bags and went to desk B23, back in the landside area, we would all be given a hotel for the night or a voucher for a taxi. By the time I got there, there was already a long queue – the flight must have been close to full with many of them waiting in departure lounge A, so about 150 passengers needed to be seen, and there were two members of staff.
Passengers were then informed that a flight would be rescheduled for 1400 the following day. At 2310 two more desks were opened for those needing taxi vouchers only. While in the queue, I spoke to a number of passengers, which highlighted the kinds of problems faced by people in these kinds of situations.
One woman was supposed to be catching a connecting flight from London Heathrow to Toronto the following morning, and, of course would miss it. Another couple said they were supposed to have been on the morning flight to Liverpool but that had been cancelled due to bad weather, and had been put on the London Gatwick flight instead, only to discover that this one too was to be cancelled.
A pair of backpackers said that had voluntarily allowed themselves to be bumped from two earlier flights to London as a gesture of good will to the families that were also hoping to board, but that they would now be facing a second night at an airport hotel in Nice as a result. For the many other people, it was the inconvenience of losing day’s work as a result of having to catch a 1400 flight on a Monday.
There were several boards in the terminal displaying posters highlighting EU passenger rights, with a freephone number to call (00800 67891011) if they wanted to complain.
The information from the European Commission said:
In the event of flight cancellation or denied boarding, the passengers concerned have the right to:
– reimbursement of the cost of the ticket within seven days or a return flight to the first point of departure or re-routing to their final destination;
– care (refreshments, meals, hotel accommodation, transport between the airport and place of accommodation, two free telephone calls, telex or fax messages, or e-mails);
– compensation totalling:
– €250 for all flights of 1500 kilometres or less;
– €400 for all intra-Community flights of more than 1500 kilometres, and for all other flights between 1500 and 3500 kilometres; ~
– €600 for all other flights.
For more information click here.
At 2335, passengers were directed to a third desk, and by 2345 it was my turn. I was promptly booked into a room at the Park Inn Nice airport, and given a series of forms that included a certificate from Avia Partner Nice, signed and dated, and in English and French, that read: “We Avia Partner acting on behalf of Easyjet testify that flight U25072 on February 21, 2010, to London Gatwick scheduled at 2130 has been cancelled. This flight will be rescheduled on February 22 at 1400 local time. We do apologise for any inconvenience caused by this cancellation and thank you for understanding.”
There was also a colour print-out of Easyjet’s “Notice of your rights” attached, directions in French for applying for reimbursement online, and a page with contact details for Easyjet’s customer support team. I asked for some vouchers for food and drink for the following day, as I had not got any that evening, and with the flight departing at 1400, I would need a lunchtime snack and a coffee.
I was given a €9 voucher (with “two x €4.50” written on it) that could be redeemed at airport vendors and on board at the Easyjet Kiosk. (No change could be given, and alcohol could not be purchased.) The staff member also wrote “CXC” across my boarding pass and told me to bring it with me the following day to check in.
A transfer bus then took the remaining passengers to the hotel, and after a 15-minute wait, I was checked into a room at 0010. The member of staff on duty did well to deal with guests quickly and in good humour, and the bar stayed open late so that everyone could buy a drink. There was only one PC available to use and internet access cost €6 for 30 minutes – as there were several people waiting to use it, it wasn’t until 0130 until I got my chance.
CHECK-IN The following morning, after a simple breakfast (served until 1000), a Park Inn minibus shuttle took myself and a dozen other passengers back to the airport for 1130. I joined the long queue for Easyjet check-in desk A12 (A10, A11 and A13 opened a while later). It took about 25 minutes to be processed and I was given a new boarding pass. At 1220, I went to Paul sandwich bar, which is landside, to spend my €9 voucher, as I knew there was less choice airside. (A coffee cost €2.80 and panini €5.10.)
After queuing for five minutes at security, I was given a pat down and my hand luggage was searched. I was on the other side by 1250, and went straight through passport control to departure lounge B. The overhead screens showed my new flight (U29072 – a different code to the one scheduled for 2130 the night before) was delayed 25 minutes.
BOARDING Passengers were called for boarding at 1345, just as the plane was taxiing to the stand. Speedy Boarding passengers were requested first, and after passports and boarding passes had been checked, there was a short walk along a corridor followed by an eight-minute wait on the airbridge. It was 1430 by the time I was on board.
THE SEAT This A319 had 26 rows configured 3-3 (A-B-C, D-E-F). As with all Easyjet flights, seats are not pre-assigned, so I headed towards the back of the plane and chose 20F by the window, behind the wing. The plane was full, but I noticed that middle seats B and E in rows two, three and four were blocked off. The cabin was quite dirty and there were crumbs on the seat, as crew obviously didn’t have time to clean it.
WHICH SEAT TO CHOOSE? Avoid middle seats B and E. If you like an unobscured view out of the window opt for rows one to seven and 17 to 26.
THE FLIGHT Before take-off, the captain came out of the cockpit to formally address everyone on board. He gave a sincere apology, saying even the staff don’t get informed sometimes as to why there are delays and cancellations. He said there had been a technical problem with the plane at London Gatwick, which meant it couldn’t take off, but “this rescue flight would soon be on its way”.
Take-off was at 1445 and about 20 minutes later, the crew started the food and drink service. The woman sitting next to me tried to buy some refreshments with a €9 Easyjet voucher (with “two x €4.50” written on it) she had been given the day before but they would not accept it because it didn’t correspond with that day’s date. She also said staff on the ground should not have written “two x €4.50” on it.
After the woman insisted, a senior member of crew said she would call operations to ask permission “otherwise she would get in trouble with head office”.
One of the crew members offered to pay for the woman’s snacks and drinks if operations said no to the request, as she “felt sorry for her, after being delayed getting home for so long”, but the woman declined, thanking her. Finally they got the thumbs up and the woman got her cup of tea, Kit Kat and Pringles.
ARRIVAL Before descending into London, crew brought green and black plastic bags around for rubbish and recycling of plastic and paper. Landing was at 1615 (1530 local time) and disembarkation was prompt. I was through immigration and heading for the tube by 1545.
VERDICT A pretty disastrous return journey resulting in the loss of a day in the office and considerable inconvenience. Nice airport offered almost no support or communication as to why the flight was delayed and the crew on board seemed bound by bureaucratic rules that impinged on the basic customer service they wanted to provide. However, ground staff did well accommodating everyone at hotels, and providing meal vouchers on request, and were upbeat and friendly, despite it being so late at night. The rescheduled flight the next day was 45 minutes late, which meant I got back to London almost 17 hours later than I was meant to.
THE COMPLAINT After returning back to the UK, I called Easyjet’s customer services department to try and claim compensation, but was told that because of “extraordinary circumstances”, namely an air traffic control problem that meant the carrier’s slot was taken for the outbound London Gatwick-Nice flight the night before, no compensation could be paid. (However, this was contrary to what the pilot and ground staff had said.) If it had been Easyjet’s fault – ie, there was a shortage of cabin crew or no pilot – compensation may have been paid.
I was also told that the flight had not been cancelled but rescheduled, another reason why I and all other passengers would not be entitled to compensation. However, according to the Air Transport Users Council, if the new flight has a new number (as in my case, originally U25072, new number U29072) the original flight is considered “cancelled”. If the flight has the same number, it is considered “rescheduled”.
Customer services said there was nothing more they could do for me, and that Easyjet had fulfilled its obligations by providing overnight accommodation, vouchers for food and drink, and another flight home the next day.
PRICE Internet rates for a return flight with Easyjet from London Gatwick to Nice in mid April started from £52.
CONTACT easyjet.com, heliairmonaco.com
auc.org.uk – for independent consumer advice on your rights as an air passenger and for filing claims for compensation from the airlines. No fee is charged.
euclaim.co.uk – for filing a claim for compensation from airlines. The firm takes 27 per cent of whatever fee you are paid, plus an administration charge. If you are not awarded any compensation, you will not incur any fees.