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

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