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.
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.
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.”