Q: Aer Lingus canceled my recent flight from Dublin to Chicago after an extended delay. Initially, there was an issue with the plane, and then the delay had gone on so long that the flight crew could no longer fly.
The Aer Lingus pilot announced that we should get off the plane, and advised us to either book our own flight home on any airline and Aer Lingus would refund us or call the phone number we were provided with.
An Aer Lingus representative also told us to get our own hotel, taxi and food – all of which would be refunded. I opted to book a new flight for myself and my two travel companions. I booked us a hotel and also paid for taxis and food.
To date, Aer Lingus has not refunded me or contacted me about my claim for reimbursement, nor has it offered compensation for the canceled flight as required by EU law. I have tried to contact the airline numerous times, including emailing the executives listed on your consumer-advocacy site, but have not heard back.
I need refund help. I’d like Aer Lingus to fully reimburse us for the three flights I had to purchase, the taxis, the food, the hotel and the 600-euro compensation per person owed under EU law.
Caitlin McNulty, Chicago
A: If Aer Lingus promised to refund you for a new flight and your expenses, as well as compensate you under EU law, it should have done so promptly. You shouldn’t need any refund help, but you do.
I’m not sure if the pilot and the Aer Lingus representatives said what you heard. It’s highly unusual – almost unprecedented – for an airline to tell passengers to make their own flight arrangements, hotel reservations and to hire a taxi, and to offer a blank check to customers.
Here’s how it usually works: When there’s a flight cancellation, an airline will offer to rebook travelers on a flight of its choosing, generally with the same carrier. It will offer vouchers for a hotel or transportation. Otherwise, passengers could stay at the Ritz-Carlton and fly back to the States in first class.
I think it’s possible you misunderstood the Aer Lingus representatives, which is too bad. You could have saved yourself a lot of headache by allowing the airline to handle your reservation and accommodations. Instead, maybe because the reps were unclear, you began an odyssey that ended with you asking me for help.
If someone ever promises you something that looks too good to be true, like a no-questions-asked refund on a plane ticket, get it in writing. That makes the refund process infinitely simpler.
I publish the names, numbers, and email addresses of the Aer Lingus executives on my consumer-advocacy site. Appealing to them was the right thing to do, but without written proof of the offer, you were out of luck.
I contacted Aer Lingus on your behalf. A representative said that Aer Lingus is “very conscious” of the importance of reliable service. “Regrettably, there will remain isolated occasions where our service will be affected as a result of a technical issue,” she added. Although she didn’t offer any details about the circumstances of your claim – did the pilot really tell you to rebook the flights yourself? – Aer Lingus agreed to honor most of your expenses. It cut you and your fellow passengers a check for the full amount of the EU-required compensation, plus “reasonable” out-of-pocket expenses of $582.
Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine. Read more at elliott.org, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.