My Aer Lingus flight from hell

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My Aer Lingus flight from hell

It all began with a text…and then an email.

On Sunday, June 16th, I was booked on a return flight from Berlin to Dublin. The departure time was 9:45PM Berlin time.

At 5:08PM, as we were preparing to get the train from Berlin to the airport, a text arrived to say the flight was cancelled. The wording read as follows:

Aer Lingus text announcing flight cancellation

An email with the same message arrived shortly after.

About an hour later, I received another text with a slightly different message telling me that the flight was still cancelled.

Bad news indeed but at least Aer Lingus seemed to be on top of it with lots of updates. No panic, yet!

We decided to travel to the airport and by then, we hoped that Aer Lingus would have those alternative arrangements sorted.

No such luck. At the airport, there was nothing. No information desk or Aer Lingus representative advising travellers what to do. There was also no follow up text or email.

Things were beginning to seem at little disorganised at Aer Lingus.

We headed for the airport information desk. Nothing! They had no information, but suggested, for some strange reason to head to the Easyjet desk as that airline had also cancelled a flight to… Paris and their service desk was still open. We did.

Brandenburg (BER) airport, Berlin where there was no on the ground Aer Lingus support available

It was chaos and panic at the Easyjet desk with passengers and Easyjet staff arguing over one another in raised voices. Clearly, there was no Aer Lingus connection here, so we quickly moved on.

We noticed another airport service desk. We headed over. Although pleasant, they had no information on Aer Lingus but expressed surprise Aer Lingus support was unavailable at that time.  

Still no follow-up text or email from Aer Lingus.

I then began checking alternative flight options from Berlin to Dublin. Nothing on Sunday, or Monday. All flights on Aer Lingus on Monday were booked out. Same for Ryanair.

There were some flights on Ryanair on Monday via Manchester and Birmingham and onto Dublin.

We then chatted to a couple in the same situation as us. They too were waiting for updates from Aer Lingus. Between them, one was given a return flight on Tuesday and their partner had nothing. Both decided to go and search for a hotel.

But since the original Aer Lingus text suggested we wait for an update via text / email; we thought this might still be the best option.

So, we went back to the information desk, this time to enquire about the closest hotel (I normally use a hotel booking site but thought the airport information desk might offer some additional tips). By chance, a representative at the service desk said they were “pretty certain they heard something about a QR code for cancelled flights”. They told us where to find the QR code.

QR code saves the night

The QR code was in a different location and poorly marked. I scanned it and low and behold, Aer Lingus had a hotel room reserved for us. Located about 7km away, we got a taxi. On the way there, I wondered if Aer Lingus would be picking up the cost or if I would, to reclaim it later. Aer Lingus did.

All the while, there was no follow up text or email from Aer Lingus on any alternative flight arrangements.

Next morning, still no flight update. Things were looking serious now.

A call into work to say we wouldn’t make it in today.

Still no flight update

Breakfast, and still no update.

I chatted with an elderly Irish couple that were staying at the hotel and like us, it was someone at the airport that had given them the hotel booking information. They said they did receive a message from Aer Lingus via email on alternative flight arrangements, but they would not get back to Ireland until Tuesday, so they went ahead and booked flights directly, themselves via the UK. I asked them if they used the Aer Lingus app, they said no!

I was really concerned now. Some passengers were receiving some information from Aer Lingus via text and email about alternative flight arrangements but none for us yet! What was going on???

Aer Lingus app

I don’t usually use the Aer Lingus app. In the past, when I tried to use it to check in for a flight, it didn’t always work and because of that, unlike the Ryanair app (which always works seamlessly), it’s just easier to check in at the Aer Lingus desk.

But this time, I chanced a quick check on the Aer Lingus app, Nothing!

Still no follow-up text or email from Aer Lingus on those alternative flight arrangements.

Then, by chance, I went back to the Aer Lingus app and explored a bit further. I entered my name and flight number and low and behold, Aer Lingus had an update. We were booked on a flight from Berlin to Dublin via Amsterdam in the evening. A day late but it was better than nothing.

Aer Lingus call centre

Just to make sure the new flight arrangements on the Aer Lingus app was legitimate and that we were actually booked. I decided to call Aer Lingus directly.  

After 30 minutes of pre-recorded customer service prompts and announcements and 3 successive call terminations, I gave up. Clearly Aer Lingus defines customer service differently to what any reasonable person might expect but neither ‘customer’ or ‘service’ carries any real weight at Aer Lingus these days.  

So, we had a few unexciting hours in the warehouse district of Schoenfeld where our hotel was located, and our taxi driver struggled to find the night before. It sits at the edge of the vast airport complex but there is little to see or do there other than leave.

We decided to head back to the airport early and check in.

We were booked on the first part of our 2-flight return to trip Dublin on KLM. There, we joined a shortish queue and inched our way to the check in clerk, fingers crossed that we would have a reservation…and seats.

We did. The clerk was wonderful. Pleasant, informative, and also apologetic. She advised that in Amsterdam, we would need to check in to the Aer Lingus flight separately.

On the KLM flight, one of the flight attendants mentioned she was aware of the Aer Lingus situation and wondered why the airline did not have any representation in Berlin airport to offer advice and support to travelling passengers, especially since most would have been enroute to the airport when the flight was cancelled. She clearly had much more customer wellbeing awareness than Aer Lingus management.

More risk!

Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport had over 62 million passengers travel through it in 2023. It is vast.

Our flight from Berlin landed in a different part of the airport than where the Aer Lingus flight would be departing. With little more than hour to exit the KLM flight, locate the Aer Lingus check in desk and get to the boarding gate, time was tight.

It would become a mad dash.

While we were leaving the plane, we happened to cross paths with a fellow Irish passenger caught up in the Aer Lingus fiasco.

She asked to join us, we became a sort of Celtic brigade barging our way around the terminals of Schiphol airport in search of the Aer Lingus check in desk.

We spotted a ‘Transfer’ service. They couldn’t help but suggested a place that might. That information proved a false lead.

We encountered a couple of KLM employees with iPads. They had no immediate information on the Aer Lingus check in desk but did offer us some useful information. They suggested we make our way to the departures gate where there “would likely be a representative that would issue us with our boarding pass”.

KLM staff were really helpful on getting our Aer Lingus boarding pass sorted.

Passport control

As the three of us approached passport control, we wondered if we would be allowed through without a boarding pass. Some passengers were being stopped and quizzed with officials appearing to check passports and boarding passes, but it seemed random. So, we used the passport kiosks and hoped for the best.

Check in at Schipol airport

All through! No additional checks. Now onto the boarding gate. It was moved. We dashed on. Finally, a service agent…and a queue. It was short. A group of Americans took some time to process, they were in the same Aer Lingus cancellation fiasco as us. Finally, we got to the front of the line and magic. WE WERE CHECKED IN TO THE LAST PART OF OUR DELAYED AND CHAOTIC RETURN TO DUBLIN.

After we were sorted, we chatted with the other lady from Dublin.

She was totally gobsmacked with the sheer lack of communication from Aer Lingus. She said that Aer Lingus had booked her on a return flight to Dublin via the UK on a British Airways flight earlier that morning, but it was subsequently also cancelled. For her, she experienced two cancellations, the original one on Sunday evening and the alternative one on Monday morning. As we had, she experienced the same conduct from the Aer Lingus call centre with a whole series of long waits and call hangups. She never received any follow up emails or texts from Aer Lingus on any alternative flight arrangements. She, like us found out about the hotel arrangements by accident. She did eventually manage to get to talk to someone at Aer Lingus in Dublin where she was placed on the same KLM flight as us.

A reminder of priorities

On the flight from Berlin to Amsterdam, which is shorter than the leg from Amsterdam to Dublin, KLM gave away free drinks and snacks to passengers. On the Amsterdam to Dublin flight, Aer Lingus charges. It’s a reminder of where Aer Lingus priorities appear to lie these days.

On the last leg of the journey from Amsterdam to Dublin

And throughout all of this, there was no other follow-up email or text.

What was consistent among all the affected passengers that I talked with was the lack of communication from Aer Lingus. Clearly, it has some structures in place. It booked a hotel but was ineffective in communicating it via text or email. It sourced alternative flight arrangements, but it appeared chaotic and was poorly communicated. I never received the text / email the airline advised me to be on the lookout for which was the same for other passengers. It is such times that a clear and robust system of passenger notifications should be designed for, to keep them aware and confident the airline has their best interest in mind.  Aer Lingus failed miserably, and this was just in the case of one Sunday evening flight from Berlin to Dublin. What happens when there is a bigger crisis?

Now it’s into what my actual customer rights are!  

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