A passenger named Carson Harris recently became the victim of a downgrade by British Airways. Harris was forced to move from business class to economy during a particular stretch of his round-trip flight to Bucharest.
When he sent in a claim to the airline company, demanding that he be compensated for the downgrade, the airlines refused to respond.
Harris isn’t the first of his kind. Involuntary downgrades are fairly common and even in situations where the case is valid, airlines can still choose to ignore a passenger’s claims.
Harris had booked his tickets via Orbitz, on a BA flight from Chicago to Bucharest, with a return to Minneapolis.
However, according to Harris, he was downgraded on the Chicago to London leg of the journey. He was told that the flight had been overbooked and wasn’t given an option. Harris is believed to have contacted Orbitz soon after, where he was told that he would have to file a formal complaint online and that BA would refund him.
Not so surprisingly, BA failed to do so and upon reaching out to BA directly, he was simply asked to take up the matter with Orbitz. Orbitz told Harris that the matter was beyond them due to EU regulations.
EC 261, the consumer protection regulation that oversees European airlines, does not directly address refunds though travel agencies. In other words, Harris had been lied to by Orbitz. As far as regulations go, the travel agent or firm responsible for the booking is required to secure the refund.
Involuntarily downgraded passengers like Harris are entitled to a refund, irrespective of whether or not a travel agent is involved.
After an advocacy firm went through the paper trail between Orbit, BA, and Harris, it was determined that he was entitle to a compensation. Orbitz had knowingly misinterpreted the law to mislead Harris, an American unaware of EU compensation laws.
According to EC 261, Harris should have been refunded a percentage of the ticket costs based on the distance of the journey. Since the distance between Chicago and London is 1500km, the booking service is required to reimburse 75% of the ticket cost to Harris under EU compensation law.
Harris’s case was solved after the advocacy firm instructed him to send the compensation request to both, Orbitz and BA. The confusion between BA and Orbitz had risen as a result of the conflict between BA’s own terms and conditions and EC261.
However, in this case, Orbitz was responsible for the refund since they had provided the service. In such situations, it is best to send in compensation requests to both parties. More importantly, it is wise to acquire the services of compensation advocates who can guide you in the right direction.
Fortunately, Harris did exactly that and was eventually refunded a percentage of his ticket cost by Orbitz.
Passengers are advised to be sceptical of refusals or rejections from airlines or travel agencies and seek the guidance of experts.