When Catherine Jackson’s flight from Johannesburg to London takes off without her, she asks us to help her get reimbursement from British Airways for her delay. But there is one big problem with her request: Her British Airways flight wasn’t delayed.
Jackson’s story highlights the need to get all your facts straight before you contact an airline — or a consumer advocate — for help. We always want to assist wherever we can, but in this case we can’t. You’ll see why in a second.
Getting all the facts to advocate Jackson’s case was a little like pulling teeth. When she initially contacted us she said she had no idea why she and her husband were denied boarding on her flight to London.
My original flight was British Airways 54 departing Johannesburg at 9:10 PM and arrive in London/Heathrow at 7:20AM. We did not get to take this flight. We checked in.
One hour later, the man who checked us in, found us in the crowded airport. He brought us back to the ticket counter and put us on a different flight and a different airline.
Eventually, she says, they arrived in London eight hours after their scheduled arrival. She believed because of this delay, she qualified for a 600 euro (about $644) payment under the European Commission’s rule 261 (commonly known as EC 261 or EU 261).
The EU 261 is a regulation that governs all flights operated by EU carriers that originate, terminate or connect in Europe, as well as any flights originating in Europe. It is lengthy and complicated, but it has strict guidelines that must be followed and there are big fines involved for airlines that don’t comply. Under this rule, a passenger is entitled to up to 600 euros, depending on the length of the delay and distance covered by the flight.
We were surprised when Jackson reported that British Airways had outright denied her claim for payment. Based on what she had told us, we assumed that she qualified for the reimbursement.
So we began to dig a little deeper.
When we reviewed Jackson’s travel documentation we noted that she was scheduled on a connecting flight prior to the British Airways flight. This flight was from Durban and was operated by Comair, a South African airline. Hmm…
So we asked Jackson if she was on that flight and if it was delayed. She told us,
Our incoming flight was not delayed. We were already checked in at the Johannesburg airport and were waiting around. They found us in the middle of the crowded airport and made us go back to the counter. It was the same man we had checked in with an hour earlier. He said there was a problem on his end and he needed to get us on a different flight.
Under these conditions, it seemed clear that Jackson was entitled to the payment. But we thought we had better check on that Comair flight before contacting British Airways. FlightStats is a useful and free tool to check flight and airport data; historical and current. So we went to the website and checked out the information about Jackson’s incoming flight.
And here is where the giant wrench is thrown into her hopes for any reimbursement.
A delayed flight that is operated by a non-European airline in a non-European country does not qualify for payment under the EU 261. The reason that Jackson missed her British Airways flight is clear. Her Comair flight from Durban to Johannesburg was 81 minutes late and landed after boarding was complete for her British Airways flight to London.
Now we were thoroughly confused by Jackson and her story. We asked her for clarification of the facts. How could she have been checked in and waiting for her flight if she was actually on a flight from Durban? She told us she didn’t recall this delay and she apologized for bothering us.
At this point, we suggested to Jackson that she may wish to write a letter to Comair and request some type of reimbursement for the inconvenience that the delay had caused her. We also recommended that she post her story to our help forums, as we have travel experts on staff there who may have further advice based on the actual facts of the case.
We are sorry that Jackson’s arrival in London was delayed several hours, but we hope that this story serves as a reminder that in order to help a consumer, we must operate with facts.
There are consumer-friendly rules and regulations that we aim to make sure are enforced. But when we receive a request for help with missing and inaccurate information, it makes our advocacy attempts more difficult. We don’t know why Jackson did not recall her delayed flight. But the entire case hinged on that flight and is, ultimately, why this story now rests in the Case Dismissed file.