Have you seen the movie Terminal and wondered how you would cope if you were stuck in an airport and couldn’t leave? Well, Michel Gallet found out the hard way.
Gallet is a French senior engineer with expertise in spontaneous transport systems. Invited to an international conference in Rostov, Russia, by the Russian Scientific and Research Institute of Motor Transport (NIIAT), round trip tickets between Paris and Rostov were purchased for him on Aeroflot.
Gallet traveled from Paris to Rostov without incident. His return trip, however, was not so uneventful.
Aeroflot’s flight from Rostov to Moscow departed at least 30 minutes late, and when it arrived at Moscow’s overcrowded Sheremetyevo Airport, traffic kept the plane from reaching a gate for an additional 20 minutes. Once passengers were allowed to leave the plane, they were bused to the terminal, and Gallet met additional challenges.
Gallet’s original flight to Paris had already departed, so he looked for the Aeroflot connections desk. The agent there was unable to help Gallet because of a language barrier. Gallet then proceeded to the main hall and spoke to another agent at the main Aeroflot office. This agent was able to provide Gallet with a ticket to Paris — but it didn’t depart until the following morning.
Gallet’s visa was only valid for four days, and it was expiring in a few hours. It would not be possible for him to leave the airport and return the next morning. He would have to proceed to the international terminal and would not be allowed to leave — unless it was on a flight out of the country.
Are you reliving scenes from Terminal? I was when I first read Michel Gallet’s story. Gallet was too.
The Aeroflot agent who provided Gallet with his ticket couldn’t help him with a place to stay, couldn’t allow him to use the Aeroflot lounge for a few hours and couldn’t upgrade him on his flight the next morning. When Gallet wanted to know where he was supposed to spend the night, it wasn’t the agent’s problem. Gallet received vouchers totaling 490 rubles (approximately $8) for two meals, plus a soft drink voucher and a small bottle of water.
Gallet told us his age, professional position and expertise make him a respected person at home in France — and in most places abroad. But in Russia, he settled onto the dirty and bug-infested floor of the Moscow airport to spend the night. He awoke in pain, with bug bites on his neck, made his way to the gate, and eventually arrived safely in Paris — a day later than planned, missing a family celebration. That’s when he sent a letter to Aeroflot to ask for reimbursement of the cost of his flight plus the cost of a “nice hotel room.”
Aeroflot’s website lists certain types of compensation for delayed flights. In the case of flights delayed six or more hours during the night, Aeroflot promises to provide checked-in passengers with hotel accommodations, round-trip transfers between the airport and the hotel and catering services.
While I understand that it isn’t Aeroflot’s fault that Gallet’s visa was expiring, it also wasn’t Gallet’s fault he missed his connecting flight. Further, Gallet didn’t control his visa application — NIIAT did. Leaving a country on the day a visa expires — especially one with validity as short as Gallet’s — isn’t a unique situation, and Aeroflot should have been able to make alternate arrangements for him.
But is Gallet entitled to reimbursement of his flight cost and the cost of a hotel room? Technically, I don’t believe he is. Gallet told us that NIIAT issued his ticket, so he had no flight expenses to reimburse. Since he was never able to get a hotel room, he had no hotel or transportation expenses to reimburse, either.
Does Gallet deserve compensation? Absolutely. But is he entitled to reimbursement of expense he doesn’t seem to have expended? No. But don’t get me wrong: I do think Aeroflot should have offered him compensation.
In response to his letter, Aeroflot offered Gallet only 48 euros compensation. When he appealed, the company explained that its “company culture wouldn’t allow it.” He asked us to get involved, but Aeroflot ignored us — and now it’s ignoring him.