Icelandair Overbooks Flight, Delays Return By 43 Hours, Forgets To Compensate Passengers

A reader just sent us a description of her flight back from London to Minneapolis that reads like a synopsis of a particularly unpleasant episode of “The Amazing Race.” The return flight, on Iceland air, was supposed to go from Heathrow in London to Keflavik in Reykjavik, then from there to Minneapolis. The initial flight is delayed for 2 1/2 hours—but not to worry, Icelandair tells the passengers, because the other flight is being held. When they arrive in Iceland, however, there’s no plane waiting for them—it’s been overbooked, so the airline has sent it ahead and left the passengers stranded overnight.

con_handwrittenconfirmation.jpgIcelandair gives the passengers vouchers for a hotel stay, a meal, and one 3-minute phone call. The next morning they fly them to Amsterdam to hook them up with Northwest for a flight back to the states. However, right before they board the flight to Schiphol, someone in their group notices a “Passengers Rights” poster “on the wall of the concourse next to a gift shop.” It says—surprise!—that EU rules require Icelandair to pay each passenger 600 euros for overbooking a flight of that distance and causing a delay of more than 4 hours. When they bring this to the attention of Icelandair employees, they get blank stares—nobody seems to know anything about this.

In Schiphol, they can’t find a single Icelandair employee to help them, then end up running from transfer station to transfer station trying to find their flight, and then they’re denied boarding because their luggage hasn’t been transferred. They find another flight a few hours later, but then discover it’s been oversold and they’re turned away—which means they’re stranded overnight in Amsterdam. Well, there are worse places to be stranded, but still.

Oh, and when they finally get the phone number of an Icelandair manager, this happens:

In the meantime, one of us had been able to get contact information for an Icelandair supervisor from a manager with Northwest Airlines (photo of document enclosed). At this point, we called the supervisor, Harry Hengeveld, hoping he could help deal with things. Instead of helping us, he asked how we got his number and proceeded to rudely hang up us while we in the middle of explain the situation. This was less than one minute into the call.

What’s interesting about this story is the Icelandair employees knew enough about the EU Passenger Rights laws to know that they had to provide lodging and food—but were conveniently in the dark about the overbooking rule that requires cash compensation within 7 days of the event. We wonder if it had anything to do with the fact that they were dealing with stressed out Americans who were obviously not aware of the EU’s Passenger Rights. (Curse that helpful poster!)

con_icelandicfolkwitch.jpg The reader, Samantha, has sent a detailed letter to Icelandair’s executive office explaining the problems and asking for a refund. We suggest she also try calling the phone number printed on the EU’s new Passenger Rights posters— 00 800 6 7 8 9 10 11 —and try contacting the European Commission as well to see if they can provide some assistance, and to lodge an official complaint against Icelandair for not following the rules.

Air Passenger Rights email:
European Commission
Directorate-General for Energy and Transport
B-1049 Brussels
fax (32-2) 299 10 15

(Thanks and good luck to Samantha!)

Poster of Passenger Rights (PDF download)
Air Transport Portal of the European Commission: Information For Passengers


Edit Your Comment

  1. HRHKingFriday says:

    Hm. Well I’ve flown Icelandair a couple times and not had problems. But then again, that was 5 years ago, when it was a smaller company. Plus my dad speaks icelandic, so I’m sure that helped.

  2. TsarBomba says:

    Photo of Bjork is inspired.

    That IS Bjork, right? Or is it Mrs. Hengeveld?

  3. Zgeg says:

    Before everyone gets on with the bashing of Iceland air let it be said that I have been using them as my main transpot to and from Europe for the past 6 years (at least two round trips a year) and they have been nothing but amazing. There flights are cheaper than most and although their planes aren’t the newest (I think they use older 757’s for most of there trans atlantic flights) there service is always top notch. I was stranded in Iceland a few years ago due to some weather and they put me and a friend up in a hotel for TWO days until we could get out. Sounds like they had an unfortunate event, but I would hate to think this would be enough to pass judgement on a truely unique and customer friendly ariline..

  4. Munsoned says:

    I’m just glad that they’re (hopefully) going to be paid in Euros. By the time the money rolls around, who knows what the dollar will be worth.

  5. popeye_doyle says:

    I’m surprised that anyone from Minneapolis actually knows where London is, let alone have a reason to be there.

  6. TWinter says:

    @popeye_doyle: Have you ever been to Minneapolis? It’s a reasonably cosmopolitan city and they have direct flights to quite a few international destinations.

  7. Jaysyn was banned for: says:

    Icleandair? I clean da air?

    Come on guys. You can do better than this.

  8. matt1978 says:

    @popeye_doyle: Somebody who names themselves after a player in The French Connection is going to bag on the Twin Cities?


  9. ionerox says:

    @ popeye_doyle: Oh, so I suppose you also think the 3.5 million people who live in the area are all two steps off the farm and say “you betcha”. Perhaps if you didn’t depend upon movies like Fargo to learn about a city, you’d know better.

  10. ionerox says:

    I’ve had nothing but positive experiences flying Iceland Air the same Minneapolis-Reykjavik-Heathrow route, a few different times. Then again, we didn’t have any issues that would have required Iceland Air to step up their customer service beyond normal.

    What a crappy supervisor, he shouldn’t be allowed to be in charge of anything or anyone. But why the hell didn’t they call the number on the poster in the first place?

  11. DrGirlfriend says:

    do not feed the trolls

  12. Chris Walters says:

    @ionerox: The poster in the photo the passenger sent us was much older looking—two columns of fine print with some clip art of an airplane at the top. The number may not have been printed on it, which is why I thought it might be better to show the new one here.

  13. Zgeg says:

    I can vouch for the MinnSt. Paul area.. Spent a couple of weeks there in 05 at the Xcel center.. Cool people and decent night life.. And I saw Duran Duran…

  14. Jthmeffy says:

    @popeye_doyle: Gotta love ignorant fucks like you, eh? So I suppose if we aren’t as ‘fortunate’ enough to live somewhere like California or New York, we don’t know our ass from a hole the ground?

  15. SpenceMan01 says:

    @ionerox: I do live close to a farm and say things like “you betcha”. I’ve resigned myself to the fact that the “cultured” people in the bigger US cities really don’t give two shakes about us in the heartland even though a good quantity of the food they eat is grown here. I’m not maddened by their insults on our ways of life. I pity them.

  16. damitaimee says:

    i love the phone number on the poster….00 800 6 7 8 9 10 11


  17. HootieMac says:

    @TWinter: Yes, you’re right. We have HORRIBLE school rankings here in MN. Oh, wait, no we don’t.

    Go back under your bridge.

  18. apprivendi says:

    I’m sure when Samantha contacts the European Commission, they will politely inform her that since Iceland is not a member of the EU, she is wholly and completely SOL.

  19. slyemu says:

    However, the plane was in two EU countries. The rules apply to any airline playing in the EU sandbox.

  20. scoosdad says:

    @apprivendi: Bingo! Game over.

  21. azntg says:

    @apprivendi: Forgive if I’m wrong, but isn’t an airline serving a particular country bound to the rules and regulations of that country while especially when it’s physically there?

    Iceland may not be part of the EU, but sure as hell is operating in EU territory.

  22. Abogada says:

    Well, I live in St. Paul, and have been to Europe many times both for business and pleasure, almost yearly since the age if 15. I lived there for a few years too. Gosh, not sure how I ever found my way…..

  23. Abogada says:

    “of” 15

  24. dotorg greg says:

    Some of my best friends are Icelandic, and some are from Minnesota, but Icelandair is as comically inept as any national airline of any other tiny third world island.

    On our flight back last summer, we were told to be five [5!] hours early at the airport in reykjavik, that was the only way to get seats together. We were the second people in line, behind a big gang of Swedish golfers whose clubs had gone missing somewhere, and who burned up an hour with the only desk agent around. They scoffed among themselves at the backwards procedures, where the agent couldn’t manage to find connecting flight information [it had happened to them on the way to Iceland, too, apparently.]

    By the time we got to the counter, still almost 4 hrs early and with no one ahead of us, we were told we’d have to wait and get our seats at the gate; though they couldn’t issue advance assignments, there weren’t any available. Utterly baffling. We ended up swapping on the plane to get back together.

    As for Minneapolis, it kind of freaked me out how everyone, even the cab drivers, listened to NPR and were eerily well-informed. Long winters inside studying, I guess.

  25. apprivendi says:

    @azntg: I believe the rules apply to the specific flight. So if the flight was from/to an EU country, the rules apply. In this case, however, the overbooking happened on the second (connecting) flight between Iceland and the US. Since the flight was between two non-EU countries, the rules wouldn’t apply.

    That being said it sounds like there was a major-league screwup with the luggage the next morning in Amsterdam. Someone (Iceland Air, Northwest) should be responsible for that.

  26. airoar says:

    I used Icelandic Air last summer and was pleased with their service. We left from Newark on route to Reykjavik to Copenhagan. We had some friends in Iceland and ended up staying in town for two days and then jumping on our connecting flight to Denmark without any problems.

    I hope/believe your case was a rare occurance.

  27. Keter says:

    Um, did anybody notice that Harry “How did you get my number?” Hangup Hengeveld’s email address is on that paper, too? Ooooh, the temptation… ;o)

  28. Bos'un's Mate says:

    @HootieMac: And make it the I-35 bridge. Represent!

  29. popeye_doyle says:

    @TWinter: Born there.

  30. Gesualdo says:

    I flew Iceland Air from BWI to Keflavik last September and found the flight to be quite disappointing. The seats were horribly uncomfortable, the flight attendants did not seem terribly interesting in seeing to the needs of their customers, the food was far less than appetizing, the ground crew in Keflavik’s boarding procedure was as organized as I’d expect of a 3rd rate airline in SE Asia, and I’m continuously getting spammed at an email address which was only given to their company.

    My real insult for them is that, given the choice, I’d rather fly on US Air than Iceland Air. /shudder.

  31. sjf212 says:

    I was one of the passengers on this trip and I feel it is important to note a couple of things in order for people to truly understand why this experience was so awful for us.

    First of all, most of the delayed group were students who had been studying in London for 4 or more months. Needless to say we were all eagerly looking forward to seeing our loved ones in Minneapolis.

    Secondly, my parents are from out-state Minnesota and drove four hours to pick me up on the day we were supposed to arrive, only to have to book a hotel for themselves for two nights until the night I actually did arrive home. They were not aware of my late arrival because the 3-minute phone call Iceland Air allowed us had to be shared by TWO people. I used my one minute and thirty seconds to call my boyfriend who was actually meeting me at the airport. By the time my parents got the message they were already half-way to Minneapolis.

    In addition, all passengers that were delayed the first night in Iceland that were over the age of 30 mysteriously were allowed to board the direct flight from Amsterdam the following day. Apparently, students are not important enough.

    Finally, by the time I was able to board a flight-with Northwest Airlines-my luggage STILL did not make the flight, despite that Iceland Air had more than a day to make sure it got there. The service on Northwest was FAR better than it had been on Iceland Air, the meals were actually edible! My luggage arrived safely the next day, Northwest even flew it to my hometown and delivered it to my front door, although they offered me $50 in vouchers to go pick it up myself. MUCH better than Iceland Air.

    Bottom Line: Iceland Air was by far the worst experience I have ever had flying. Do not sacrifice service and reliability to save an extra $50. You may just end up getting home two days later.

  32. SmartassFlyboy says:

    Here is the contactinfo for the Iclandair Manager in MSP. I know she can be known to have attitude problems, but maybe she’ll be of more help than the person you originally spoke to.

    FI MGR JESSICA GINGER 612 726 9553

  33. AlphaTeam says:

    I’m be sure to ask for a 600 Euro compensation next time I go to Europe as the last time my flight was overbooked and I was delated 7 hours!