Where’s my refund for the emergency row seats I paid for on Aer Lingus?

By | January 24th, 2017

Like many other airline passengers, John and Carolyn Brown wanted to fly in emergency exit row seats on their recent trip to Ireland. But Aer Lingus didn’t place them in emergency row seats.

The Browns prepaid Aer Lingus $320 last December for exit row seats on their round-trip flights from Washington-Dulles Airport to Dublin this past summer. But they didn’t get to sit in them. They want a refund of the amount they prepaid for those seats.

Are the Browns entitled to refunds for their prepayments?

They reserved Economy class seats 6B and 6C for their outbound flight and 6D and 6E for their return flight. On both flights, they found that Aer Lingus had reconfigured the airplanes to reduce business class by one row. Row 6 was now at the front of the emergency aisle, rather than facing it at the rear. In addition, the toilets on both flights were inoperable. (The Browns’ paper trail shows no evidence that they complained about the malfunctioning toilets or that Aer Lingus addressed that issue.)

On the outbound flight, they talked to the captain and a flight attendant about the problems. The Browns were told that their seating problem was the result of an Aer Lingus error. They were advised to email Aer Lingus to request refunds for their exit row seats.

Because two employees of Aer Lingus implied that the Browns were entitled to refunds for their exit row prepayments, they thought that they had a reasonable expectation of getting back their money. But nobody at Aer Lingus responded to their email.

Related story:   "They tell me that I should have gotten my refund by now"

Although the Browns might have contacted Aer Lingus executives using our company contacts, they asked our advocacy team for assistance in getting their $320 prepayment returned to them. Our advocates reached out to Aer Lingus on the Browns’ behalf.

Aer Lingus’ conditions of carriage is silent on involuntary downgrades, but it provides that


if a portion of the Ticket has been used, the refund will be not less than the difference between the fare and any taxes, fees and charges paid and the applicable fare for travel between the points for which the Ticket has been used.

Its customer service plan indicates that

We will provide clear information to customers about policies and services on our website and through our telephone reservation staff and representatives at the airport. … We’ll acknowledge receipt of each guest complaint within 30 days of receiving it, and will send a substantive response within 60 days of receiving it.

Also, European Union rules provide for refunds for involuntary downgrades:

When downgraded, e.g. when a passenger receives a seat on the plane corresponding to a lower class of service than that of the reservation, the airline should reimburse between 30 and 75 percent of the ticket price, depending on flight length.

Unfortunately for the Browns, Aer Lingus did not uphold these provisions of its contract of carriage or customer service plan or the European Union’s rule. After a long talk with an Aer Lingus customer service representative, the Browns received two $50 refunds, but were told that the remaining $220 was for “premium seating.” It was not explained to the Browns that they would be traveling in premium seating when they purchased their tickets.

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The experience has soured the Browns on flying altogether: “Service on airlines was much better when they were losing money. Now that they’re flying full and are profitable they don’t seem to care about keeping passengers happy…. We plan to stay on the ground from now on.”

Should John and Carolyn Brown receive refunds of the remaining $220?

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  • Bill___A

    I looked on Aer Lingus’ website because I saw so many people vote that the airline should refund more money. According to Aer Lingus’ website, they sell seats at the front of the plane as “choice seats” as one level of upgrade and then the exit row seats are an additional level of upgrade. This is quite clearly explained on the website, so why the contention that this was “not explained to the Browns when they purchased the upgrade”. Furthermore, the quote of T&C in the article talks about a refund of 50 to 75% of the ticket when the downgrade is a “lower class of service”. The exit row seat is not in a separate class of service from what I can see. Therefore they did get some part of their upgrade benefit.

  • Alan Gore

    This should be a really simple case: they paid for an upgrade they did not get and for the most common reason, an equipment change. A full refund of the upgrade is due.

  • BubbaJoe123

    Read Bill__A’s post above. They got part of the upgrade they paid for.

  • Alan Gore

    The article cites 6B and C as being still Economy.

  • BubbaJoe123

    Did you read the post? They paid for Choice seats (front part of the economy section), and additionally for exit row seats. They got the Choice seats, but not the exit row, so they were refunded the exit row fee, but not the choice fee.

  • Jeff W.

    While one could argue whether or not the Browns’ should get a partial or full refund, the rationale of talking to the captain and/or flight attendant creates an expectation of a refund.

    Really?

    Flight crew have no say as to pricing or refunds of seats. That was a canned response as that is not something they control. It was a nicer way of saying “Not my problem”. If the cleaning crew or jet bridge operator told them the same thing, would that also create an expectation of a refund? Neither group of employees have the authority to issue refunds.

    And then there is this: “The experience has soured the Browns on flying altogether”.

    If not being able to sit in an emergency exit row was such a traumatic experience that they will no longer fly on any airline at any time, then staying home for the rest of their lives is probably the best option. Because travel can be quite unpredictable and far worse things can and do happen during a travel experience that would cause someone to make such a statement. Not sitting in the emergency exit row is far down the list. Actually shouldn’t be on the list at all.

  • Steve Rabin

    They may not have been willing to pay for “front of the plane but the same legroom” seats, and this is NOT what they purchased, so I say they should get a full refund.

  • AAGK

    Once again I’m confused but too lazy to look on Aer Lingus so I will just wing it. They purchased economy seats and paid extra for some variation of an economy plus/premium/even more space/special seat product. This fee is usually rigidly non refundable. The couple did not receive the special seats nor did they receive a refund of the additional amount paid? Or, did they receive the product, however the seats weren’t located in the exit row? Which is it??? Tell me!

  • AAGK

    Too bad what they wanted to purchase wasn’t for sale. The choices were more legroom or less leg room. There wasn’t an option for more legroom in a specific row.

    If that were for sale then the airline would have probably charged twice as much bc airlines love to monetize every detail possible.

  • AAGK

    Don’t you always make airline refund requests with the captain first? Bc after flying many planes that day, dealing with air traffic control and probably borderline exhaustion, he’s just dying to field customer service inquiries.

  • AAGK

    Sounds like they got it all. The extra leg room seats weren’t for sale in a particular row.

  • AAGK

    I thought the exit row was economy also? Now I’m more confused.

  • Nathan Witt

    What determines an upgrade? I’d argue that if it’s a seat with differing characteristics and the airline charges extra to sit there, it’s an upgrade.

  • Nathan Witt

    Actually, according to the Aer Lingus website, exit row seats are more expensive than the other “more legroom” seats, and what they wanted to purchase was for sale, because they paid that extra fee. After the equipment change, what they had already purchased was denied them, and now they want their money back. Seems reasonable to me.

  • AAGK

    Thank you for clearing it up. Seems fair to me too. If the difference between exit more space and regular more space is $320 then I would be similarly outraged. That’s on top of the cost for the extra space in general?

  • Jeff W.

    I know on United planes, the seats that are immediately in front of an emergency exit row do not recline — on the premise that a reclined seat reduces the width of the path needed to exit the plane in an emergency. I am sure most airline seats follow this scheme.

    Bill___A’s explanation makes sense. They paid to sit in the choice section and did choose the exit row. But a plane change left them out of the exit row but still in that section. So only a partial refund.

    And moving from exit row to another row is not a downgrade. It is still economy class.

  • RightNow9435

    if airlines consistently not refund such “premium seats” when they suddenly become unavaillable, why would folks want to risk hundreds of dollars to buy such an upgrade, and then lose that money,if equipment is changed,etc, and the seats are no longer available.

  • Chris Johnson

    The real tragedy here are the toilets on BOTH flights being inoperable. Are you kidding me? A transatlantic flight with no working toilet, and both ways? The flights should have been cancelled or at least not permitted to leave until the toilets were fixed.

  • Bill___A

    They were refunded from what I can see based upon the difference between the seats they paid for and the seats they got, and this difference wasn’t very much.

    Their IT system should have automatically refunded the money. It isn’t that hard to maintain this information in a database. However, for whatever reason, it didn’t.

    Although I think they should have received the refund that they actually did finally get, they shouldn’t have had to go through so much trouble to get it.

    However, in the greater scheme of things, I don’t think I would have bothered. There becomes a point where you just say a trip is “so much” and if the seat doesn’t have a great deal of differences, you just let it go. I pay “x” dollars for the seat with some extra room and preferred the exit row. But you know, over the years, I’m ahead of the game. I’ve gotten the exit row seats or bulkhead seats when I didn’t have to pay for them. I’ve gotten the hotel cancellation fee waived when there was a storm. I’ve also paid a change fee twice for the same thing (once) when I did make a mistake (same trip I got the cancellation fee waived actually) and it was a trip to someone’s wedding who has cost me more money than any airline or hotel ever did.

    But my point is, don’t sweat the small stuff.

  • michael anthony

    I don’t like the practice of selling emergency exit seats. These are there for the strict purpose of evacuation in case of emergency. Not all people are capable or willing to assist in an emergency. Selling these seats for extra legroom could put other paxs at risk.

  • Harvey-6-3.5

    I disagree with the posters who say that because the OP got “special” seats, just not the exit row seats they paid for, they should only be refunded the difference. Here, the OP contracted for a specific seat. They did not choose to agree to a lesser seat, and if they couldn’t have the exit row, might not have wanted to pay for “special” seats at all. So there was a material change in the offer (see, e.g., UCC 2-207) and the OP is due a refund of the $220, in my view.

  • scoosdad

    I could understand maybe one toilet out of service, but all of them at the same time? That sounds to me like a holding tank that was full and they didn’t want to pay for ground service on that at Dulles, or didn’t have time due to a fast turnaround.

    I would hope that in that situation, the airline would inform the passengers that they had no working toilets before the plane left the gate, and give passengers the option of taking a later flight at no extra charge.

  • Chris Johnson

    On both the outbound and return flights, nonetheless! That is insane. I had to read that part of the article twice. Yes, I would agree that the should have given the passengers the option of taking a later flight or even put them on another airline. That part of the experience would have turned me off to transatlantic air travel forever, not just on Aer Lingus, or I would at least make a point to ask if the toilets were functioning every time I got on a plane.

  • jml49

    Right or wrong – you are NEVER guaranteed a particular seat or row by any airline – you may choose/request a seat assignment but the airlines retain the right to reassign you for any/no reason.

    You do buy a ‘class’ of service, and exit rows are often grouped in with other ‘premium’ seats (more leg room, etc.), so when you select the exit row you are choosing a seat in a ‘premium’ class – and can be reassigned to any other ‘premium’ seat without it be a change in service.

    Exit row seats, like ANY other particular seat are NEVER sold as a guaranteed selection.

  • jml49

    The Captain flies the plane and keeps his passengers safe – he doesn’t sell or refund tickets and never should have been bothered by these people – the lead employee on board for dealing with this issue was the purser (lead attendante

  • cscasi

    However, many times the exit row seating has even more pitch than the other rows in economy plus (or whatever the airlines calls the seating with extra leg room that they are charging extra for), so the airlines normally charge even more for the emergency exit row seating.
    Without being able to see what Aer Lingus was charging for the various seats in “premium” economy, I have no way to tell whether or not they got back the difference between what they paid for the emergency exit row seating and where they actually were seated. But, they did get back $50, so that may be close; about 15% of the original fee charged.

  • cscasi

    But, those seats are usually sold as “Premium” economy as they have more legroom.

  • AAGK

    Right, but aren’t the seats they received also premium, just less premium and the $50 reflects the cost diff? Usually an airline has premium economy seats beyond the exit row. I’m not sure though.

  • AAGK

    I think that’s what I just said. :)

  • jim6555

    A check of Aer Lingus’ website and seatguru.com told me that the aircraft that Aer Lingus flies between IAD and DUB is a Boeing 757-200. Currently, Rows 1-4 are business class, rows 5, 6 and 7 are choice economy with extra leg room. Row 7 is the exit row. Everything above row 7 except for row 24 is standard economy. Row 24 is also an exit row. If the Browns sat in rows 5 or 6, they were in premium economy and are not due a refund. They should consider themselves to be fortunate to get the $50 back.

  • Lindabator

    Comfort Economy seats are STILL in economy, but are a higher class of service. They just got a regular econ+ rather than the exit row econ+ – so they were refunded the difference – nothing to see here

  • Lindabator

    which they got back – they just wanted to get ALL the money for their premium seats back, and NOT gonna happen

  • Lindabator

    you purchase the premium or the premium exit row (for a bit more). They got premium, but NOT exit row – so Aer Lingus refunded the difference – they are not entitled to more

  • Mel65

    It’s okay; most of us got the tongue in cheekiness of your response!

  • Mel65

    Right?? There is NO way I could go that long without …well, going!

  • Chris Johnson

    I’m far more curious about that than the emergency exit row issue. What did people do during the flights, piss in the barf bags? Since apparently these people didn’t say anything about it in their emails to Aer Lingus, I guess we’ll never know. The FAA shouldn’t allow something like this, at all, at least for the flights that originate from the USA.

  • joycexyz

    Is “premium seating” what the airline decides it is on a case-by-case basis???

  • AAGK

    Makes sense to me.

  • CasaAlux

    I highly doubt that was the case; a transatlantic flight with no working toilets? It would have been all over the tabloids. And that makes me question the rest of their story.

  • Chris Johnson

    Very good point! Where are the news stories? Maybe the passengers could access and use the toilets, they just couldn’t flush them. Ewww.

  • Michael__K

    1) According to Aer Lingus’ website today, an emergency exit seat costs 70+% more than a standard “Choice” seat. They only got back 31% of their money, so I’m extremely skeptical that they got back even what they were truly owed according to Aer Lingus’s own pricing of these seats.

    2) When the seats they purchased according to the configuration presented at the time of purchase were no longer available, they should have been proactively notified and given the CHOICE to choose any other available economy seats — including non-‘Choice’ seats, and a full refund of their upgrade costs, if that’s what they preferred.

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