On the 6th of August I returned home from a wonderful week in Cephalonia. Having travelled to and from Greece many times this year I had scoured the internet for the best possible flight price, settling on a long drive to Manchester but a cheap flight on Small Planet Airlines (SPA). Nope, I hadn't heard of them either. A July flight, with included hold luggage, for £200 was far better than anything else on offer, but I had mentally prepared myself that the travelling experience was probably going to make Ryanair look good. You can imagine my surprise when I boarded the outgoing flight to find a clean, spacious and modern aeroplane, with helpful staff and well-spaced seats. Where on earth had this airline come from? Lithuania, I later found out.
Fast forward a week and as I looked up from my Kindle at Cephalonia airport, killing the last 30 minutes before boarding the return flight, I could sense a ripple of panic start to spread amongst the watchful passengers. With no notice boards or obvious information point at the airport, it was hard to confirm the reason for this whispering. Turning to a fellow passenger, it seemed that the aeroplane that was due to take us back hadn't even set off from Manchester yet. A quick google on the Small Planet Airlines website showed that nearly all their flights, across the whole of Europe, were being significantly delayed. Some by 24+ hours. But I would later find out that this is not an uncommon situation with Small Planet Airlines.
As the departure time came and went to the sound of a low frequency grumble of the predominately British passengers, someone from the airport came out to explain that we were all being taken to a hotel to wait for further information. When we arrived at the 'hotel' it was clear that this was a hotel without guests and, being so close to the airport, could be more accurately described as a 'holding camp'. The poor reps that accompanied us knew nothing, but they had started making plans for us to be housed in hotels overnight. To be fair, a complimentary meal of French fries and Greek salad starter followed by Spaghetti Bolognese did go some way to alleviating rumbling tummies and preventing a lynching.
In the end we managed to get back that night on a plane someone found kicking around in Thessaloniki. We were some 8 hours in delay. Usually I'm the type of Brit that just gets on with things and silently votes with their feet rather than making a song and dance about something I'm unhappy with. On this occasion, however, I decided to see what EU law said about flight delays; determined to get the airline to acknowledge the inconvenience caused by their shoddy operation. First port of call is always Money Saving Expert dot com and it appeared that as long as it was the airlines fault, which this was, then I was entitled to about 400E: the delay being over 3 hours, within the EU and over 1500km. The rules are listed here http://www.moneysavingexpert.com/travel/flight-delays
Money Saving Expert recommended using the Resolver website to handle all communications with the airline, which I duly did, logging my claim on the 9th August with a Resolver template which contained the text "The judgement of the Court of Justice of the European Union in Tui & others v CAA confirmed the applicability of compensation for delay as set out in the Sturgeon case. As such, I am seeking compensation under EC Regulation 261/2004 for this delayed flight."
I received an almost instant automated response from SPA but then nothing. Resolver told me on the 5th October I could now escalate to the Hellenic Aviation Authority. I did, writing another email based on their templates. It seemed from travel forums online that SPA were a very difficult company to contact, being based in Lithuania, and getting any sort of compensation near impossible. I sent a couple more chase emails to both the airline and authority but having heard nothing by November, I decided to write the endeavour off, deleting my browser bookmark to Resolver: the ultimate sign of my own mental closure on the subject.
To my surprise I received an email from SPA on the 1st December asking for a scan of my passport, my flight booking, and boarding pass. After a further exchange of emails, they confirmed on the 21st December that they acknowledged the inconvenience caused and offered me 200E in compensation to settle the matter. Their payment method was to be via IBAN payment which I found would involve a processing charge of £7 by my bank.
So, what are my reflections on this experience? It's been nearly 5 months to get the offer from SPA and although I've not received any money yet, I'm happy with an offer of 50% of what I'm legally entitled to. I wouldn’t want to take 400E for a £200 flight because, as a single traveller, I didn’t really incur many extra costs and managed to get home on the same day as planned. I guess that there is a practical consideration in that if everyone made claims against these smaller airlines then you'd risk making their operations unprofitable and therefore the airline market smaller. I balance this with the need to make sure that companies can't operate with impunity and do need to experience pain for not adhering to the standards that their customers, and the law, expect. SPA certainly made claiming an attritional process, but Resolver made it pretty painless. On the whole this seems like a good outcome for me.
By the way, on the 4th January I was copied into an email sent by the Hellenic Aviation Authority to SPA raising the issue of my delay. Got to love Greece's public sector!