When Brittany Gilroy’s Airberlin flight is oversold, the airline promises her 30,000 miles as compensation – and doesn’t follow through. What is Gilroy entitled to? And can our advocates shake it loose?
Question: I recently purchased a ticket on Airberlin from Düsseldorf, Germany, to Kennedy Airport in New York. When I was unable to check in online and print a boarding pass for my flight, I decided to get my boarding pass at the airport.
Unfortunately, my flight was oversold and I was denied boarding. An Airberlin representative told me that I would receive 30,000 frequent flyer miles on Airberlin as compensation, but I don’t live in Germany and can’t use the miles. When I pointed this out to the representative, she then told me I was entitled to the cost of my flight under European Union Rule 261.
I tried contacting Airberlin by both phone and email, but the only response I’ve received told me that I have to submit a request for a refund using Airberlin’s online complaint form or by letter, because it isn’t possible for the guest relations team, which is responsible for handling complaints, to resolve them by phone or email.
Airberlin offered me only 50 euros as compensation for being bumped, which is completely unfair. Can you help me get the cost of my flight refunded? — Brittany Gilroy, New York
Answer: Overbooking is one of the biggest customer service problems in the airline industry, and I’m sorry you experienced it on your flight home from Germany.
For international flights originating in Europe, EU 261 provides the following:
The right to financial compensation for overbooking and cancellations
At overbooking, the airline must first ask for passengers who are voluntarily willing to give up their reservations for a compensation, the carrier and the passenger may agree upon. Are there not enough volunteers the airline is obliged to financially compensate those who are denied boarding against their will. The amount of compensation depends on the distance.
- EUR 250 for all flights of 1500 kilometers or less:
- EUR 400 for all intra-Community flights of more than 1500 kilometers, and for all other flights between 1500 and 3500 kilometers
- EUR 600 for all other flights.
One reason for Airberlin’s lack of a satisfactory response to your request may be because its terms and conditions for flights originating or ending in the U.S. and Canada differ from those in EU 261 when it comes to involuntary denied boarding compensation on flights to and from the U.S.:
For the purpose of this paragraph, the term “Involuntary Refund” shall mean any passenger who is prevented from using the carriage provided for in his ticket because of … inability of carrier to provide previously confirmed space …
Involuntary refunds will be computed as follows: When no portion of the trip has been made, the amount of refund will be equal to the fare paid.
When a portion of the trip has been made, the amount of refund will be:
Either an amount equal to the one-way fare less the same rate of discount, if any, that was applied in computing the original one-way fare (or on round or circle trip tickets, one half of the round trip fare) and charges applicable to the unused transportation … or the difference between the fare paid and the fare for the transportation used, whichever is higher.
Airberlin committed a number of customer service fails in your case. It should not have oversold your flight in the first place. It should have enabled you to check in online. When it didn’t, it should have generated a boarding pass for you at the Düsseldorf airport.
It should have promptly refunded you 600 euros in accordance with EU 261, not a mere 50 euros. And it really makes no sense that its “Guest Relations Team” can’t handle customer service issues by phone or email.
You might have escalated your complaint using our contacts for Airberlin to higher-level executives, but you asked our advocates to assist you in getting the refund.
After our advocates reached out to Airberlin on your behalf, we were notified that Airberlin has apologized and issued a 600-euro refund to you.