Canceled flights and long delays: Have the ‘bad ol days’ of travel returned?

Josh Martin is a London-based journalist who writes across business and travel topics.

OPINION: My eyelid twitched and jaw clenched like only those of a man clinging on to his sanity at 5am could do. And yet, it felt familiar. Was this the real sign of travel’s return to normal setting? We’d been served up not one, but two, canceled departures in one night.

And while many airlines garnered sympathy for their rough deal during Covid, all of mine has been maxed out after a series of shoddy customer service encounters (or, lack of encounters more like).

Hours earlier, those rumbling thunderclouds at the foothills of the Italian Alps were an obviously ominous sign I ignored as we entered the departure lounge at Milan’s Bergamo airport. The towering cumulonimbus made for a dramatic sunset from the gate, it wasn’t until I saw a “delayed” pop up on the departures board that I thought our slice of “La Dolce Vita” could turn sour. And then another “delayed”.

Oh well, these things happen – time to squeeze in one last gelato, I guess. Surely if airlines can now offer wi-fi, hot showers and contactless card payments in the sky they can steer through a summer thunderstorm. Nope.

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Then the first “cancelled” replaced the previously “just delayed” flight to Paris. It set off a domino effect. Eindhoven, Barcelona, ​​London (that’ll be us), Dublin. the sunburnt and overstuffed passengers of Ryanair flight FR4195 from Milan (Bergamo) to London.

And then a fierce fight for an explanation, information and, yes, compensation from the bumbling agency staff member last seen counting down the minutes until her shift ends. Was there even one airline representative in the building?

Perhaps somebody could be reached at a call center to rebook us and explain who to charge for our extra night’s accommodation? On a Sunday in Italy, you’re dreaming. “Just go on the app!” yelped the agency staff. Argh yes, the same app that tells me I cannot change my flight or apply for a refund because “that flight has departed”.

The app is a non-starter, especially after fellow jilted travelers let us know that replacement flights with this airline departing from this airport are now booked solid for the next three days. Somehow, I don’t think my boss is going to accept that The agency staff are inept to the point of satire, but the despair and anger towards them at least bring a team mentality to the 250 deserted stragglers.

We each share small snippets of information from whatever mildly authoritative email, chatbot or border guard gives us. called ‘people’, but there I go assuming things again.

Blaming the weather is easy. Deserting a small portion of your weekly travelers at far-flung airports with no help and then insisting they use an app or a weeks-long labyrinth process of claiming expenses is relatively cheap.

I could say “I’m never flying Ryanair again”, but like millions of others, I would only be fooling myself, given that it continually offers bad seats and worse customer service and yet has grown to become Europe’s largest airline. 10.30pm on a Sunday it’s far too early in this piece to be learning lessons, there’s a whole other flight to not catch.

Yes, dear reader, it is far from over. Having given up on call centres, chatbots and even the cathartic whingeing with fellow going-nowhere-travellers about budget airlines being, in fact, budget, I took matters into my own hands. my own credit card.

Armed with the knowledge of EU aviation law that only a travel geek can shamefully recite, I went ahead and proceeded to book eye-wateringly expensive new flights that would (nearly) get us back to our London jobs on time – but from another faraway Milanese airport, an airport hotel there for the full four hours of sleep we’d get and seats on one of the scarce buses and then taxis connecting one far-flung airport to another.

Long queues are not uncommon in European airports right now.

ISTOCK/Stuff

Long queues are not uncommon in European airports right now.

At 1am in the morning after, tucked in to my overpriced airport hotel bed, there was some small solace found in knowing that the hundred of dollars forked out to various travel firms in a last-minute scramble to get home would (hopefully) be repaid , thanks to EU regulation 261/2004 and other aviation law requiring reasonable costs to be covered by the airline even when cancellations are caused by weather. I know that it will take weeks of hounding to get it, but the law is on my side. I always compare it to New Zealand’s airline-friendly laws and toothless regulators and count my blessings.

But no, we were not done yet. All it took was a high-pitched ‘ping’ of a text message from an Italian airline which had only hours beforehand happily taken hundreds of my euros to save us from our plight. SMS sent at 4am read.

Different airline, this time ITA Airways, but the same story at 5.30am: The phone lines went dead and the chatbot was caught napping. Is it too much to ask airlines to have manned phone lines for as long as they have flights departing? Apparently Before the airlines ever respond, or the insurers or credit card companies cover you, you’ve only got yourself (and your overdraft) to count on.

So in the early hours with fleetingly few brain cells remaining I did what any sane person could do: I threw even more money at the problem (or in this case, airline loyalty points) and hoped it’d be third time lucky. we’ve all been there, and yes, we’ll probably all be there again in due course.

So I could do was laugh, “well, it looks like travel really is back…and all the unavoidable queuing, cancellations and crappy services that come with it”.

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