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Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Trip Finale Part 1 - Flight Cancellation

In all of the trips I've taken overseas and around the world, I have never had an occasion to experience a flight cancellation - even on our round the world trip where we had multiple stops in a variety of timezones, every flight was on time with no problems.

Until this trip finale.

Curiously I noticed on the way to ZRH airport that Flightview was noting a possible delay of nearly 3.5 hours.  There was no bad weather in Zurich, and frankly I didn't see any major delays at other airports either.  When I got to the gate, our flight crew was there and waiting for our plane to arrive; by that time, the delay had settled at a few hours due to 'operations'.  I spoke with the captain briefly while we stood there waiting and he was kind to share that Channel 9 would be available for us to listen to for the flight.  I always enjoy listening in on air traffic control when I can.

The inbound plane finally arrived, and after the usual time to disembark passengers and prepare the aircraft we started to board.  The E+ cabin seemed a bit lighter than expected; I was due to have the seat next to me open (a bonus!).  At this point I checked my flight app to find the following shown:

Bangor!?  This does not bode well.  A diversion airport typically means we have a problem at destination or something up with the crew. 

The captain by this time was making periodic announcements that due to operations we were likely going to depart but be delayed.  A second announcement detailed that one of the pilots was going to time out and therefore we needed to stop at BGR for a new crew.  That wasn't going to bother me provided we actually took off.

But after another 45 minutes or so, the delay became a full cancellation. We waited nearly 20 minutes more for a crew to move the jetbridge.  And then a small round of chaos ensued.

I know that airlines/airports generally prepare for these types of things, but in this case United and ZRH Airport could have done better.  There were no agents to detail where we should go or what to do.  Many had checked luggage - how do we retrieve?  We were told vouchers would be available but not where to get them.  And to get to Baggage claim everyone had to revisit passport control.  Yikes.

When I finally got to baggage claim I quickly found the United area where a line was starting to form.  An agent was trying to tell passengers in line that no rebookings would be possible at this location - everyone was to use the App or call.  For international itineraries, this was an epic fail in my book.  I finally got my turn with an agent who gave me a hotel and shuttle voucher (I would have to find out flight details on my own).  Since this cancellation occurred in the EU and for no reason other than ops, I also asked the UA agent for detail on my rights to claim compensation under EU Regulation 261/2004.  That certainly took her by surprise...she asked to pause, walked away, and came back with a pamphlet that detailed the request process and rights to file a claim. Her recommendation was that it was more of a hassle than it was worth to file though it was my right to try.

The hotel I was given was not bad - the Kameha Grand - I used my train pass to get there and after a quick bite to eat was in bed to be up for a morning departure back to Newark.  There were no issues on the return; in fact many of the passengers kept their same seats.  We flew on the same plane with the same crew back - quite the day but I wasn't going to give up on putting in a claim for compensation...

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