EasyJet prioritises package holiday customers when deciding which passengers to kick off overbooked flights

Britain’s biggest budget airline is less likely to deny a passenger boarding on an overbooked flight if they are travelling on an easyJet package holiday, The Independent has learnt.

Like many airlines, easyJet routinely sells more tickets than there are seats on the plane for popular departures. The airline says its typical no-show rate is 5 per cent, or an average of nine passengers for each full flight.

Occasionally, when easyJet is unduly optimistic about the number of “no-shows,” passengers have to be offloaded. The same applies when a flight experiences a “downgauge” to a smaller aircraft than originally planned.

In such cases, European air passengers’ rights rules require the airline to seek volunteers to travel on a later flight in return for a cash payment. If sufficient volunteers cannot be found, easyJet ground staff choose people to offload against their will – but make an exception for customers of the airline’s holiday offshoot.

The policy came to light after The Independent began to investigate an incident in which an extended family was split up at Liverpool John Lennon airport.

In April, Gemma Archer and her family checked in at the Merseyside airport for an easyJet flight to Faro in Portugal. The party of 10 were all travelling to the Algarve on an easyJet Holidays package.

A technical problem meant the original aircraft had to be replaced by a smaller plane, meaning some people needed to be offloaded.

Three members of Ms Archer’s party were allowed to board, but she and six other members of her family were selected to be bumped.

Yet this turned out to be against company policy – which is designed to protect easyJet Holiday passengers.

She told The Independent: “EasyJet on the phone were telling ground staff we needed to get on the plane as we had a package holiday and were protected above people with flights only.”

For Ms Archer and her six family members who were offloaded, the problems were only just beginning. Four of them were put on the following morning’s flight from Liverpool to Faro, 24 hours late.

Ms Archer, her husband and their son-in-law were booked on a later flight from Manchester to Faro. But that was cancelled, and they ended up taking a taxi to Gatwick for a flight from there.

An easyJet Holidays spokesperson confirmed to The Independent that Ms Archer’s family were wrongly offloaded, saying: “Our ground staff are given guidance on which groups of customers to try and avoid selecting not to travel in the event where not enough volunteers come forward when an aircraft is downgraded, which includes a number of groups like those requiring special assistance and, where possible, easyJet Holidays customers.

“On this occasion, due to the late-notice aircraft change and amount of activity taking place at the gate, our ground handling partners unfortunately did not identify the family as being easyJet holidays customers, for which we are sorry.”

The policy of prioritising easyJet Holidays customers increases the chances of flight-only passengers, or those booked with other tour operators, being denied boarding.

The spokesperson added: “We always seek volunteers to not travel if we have to operate a smaller aircraft in exchange for alternative travel options and denied boarding compensation which can range up to £500 for volunteers.

“While we always endeavour to not split bookings, our agents will on occasion offer rebookings on separate flights in order to get customers to their destination as quickly as possible – particularly if there is limited availability for seats to their destination.”

Ms Archer and the six other family members who were involuntarily offloaded were each given £350 compensation, as the law stipulates.

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