The New Years Eve flight delay in Dubai (31 December 2016) – reported as Qantas pax stranded in Dubai – but Joyce gets home was almost an exact replica of the less reported Christmas Eve flight delay in Dubai (23 & 24 December 2016).
In both, the QF2 (London to Sydney via Dubai) A380 aircraft landed at Dubai Airport where it was unable to continue due to a technical problem. The passengers were stranded in Dubai for 24 hours. The customer service was appalling.
This is an eyewitness account of the Christmas Eve Flight delay, and the way Qantas handled it.
What happened to the passengers on QF2 at Dubai on 23 & 24 December 2016?
- The passengers had re-boarded QF2 for the DWC – SYD sector at 9:00 am at Dubai airport.
- The plane sat on the tarmac for 6 hours, when the flight was called off due to an engineering problem with the fuel tank (a servicing reason within the control of Qantas). In the USA, the Department of Transport (DOT) fines airlines for tarmac delays of more than 3 hours.
- Passengers were kept informed, but not fed. In 6 hours, they were offered one Mars bar and two cups of water. None of the other mid-flight snacks and drinks on board were offered. In the USA, the DOT requires carriers to provide adequate food and potable drinking water for passengers within two hours of the aircraft being delayed on the tarmac and to maintain operable lavatories and, if necessary, provide medical attention.
- The passengers offloaded at 3:00 pm with the assurance that the problem would be fixed overnight (it was) and the flight would leave at the same time the next day.
In its Customer Charter, Qantas states:
In the unlikely event that your flight is delayed overnight for reasons within our control and you are away from your home port, we will provide you with meals, accommodation and transfers.
This is how the Qantas customer service fell short on the Christmas Eve flight:
- There was no Qantas manager on hand at Dubai Airport to communicate with the passengers as to how Qantas was handling the delay and to assist with any queries.
- Passengers were not offered a sandwich and a drink while waiting at the airport. In Europe, if there is a flight delay of 2 hours or more, all airlines must offer snacks and refreshments at the airport to comply with EU Law (reg. 261/2004).
- There was poor communication about how the delay was being handled. It was unclear whether or not passengers needed to collect new boarding passes the next day.
- While waiting 1.5 hours in the boarding lounge at the airport for hotel rooms to be allocated, an announcement was made that Qantas staff would not assist with trying to re-book onto Emirates flights leaving that day (a Qantas codeshare partner), and suggested that passengers phone Qantas customer service themselves. The Qantas Australia customer service phone number rang out after 30 minutes, with no answer. Qantas customer service UK didn’t know about the delay and said they couldn’t help. As a last resort, a phone call was placed with Emirates which advised that unfortunately because the booking was made through Qantas, they were unable to re-book the flight.
- Hotel bookings and transfers were delegated to Dubai airport staff or Emirates staff while the passengers were in the boarding lounge. The rooms were offered on a tiered basis: First and business class passengers were offered accommodation first, followed by families with children, then couples, then single passengers. As rooms were allocated, passengers made their way out through immigration to the hotel transfer desk.
- On arrival at the hotel to check-in, it took approximately 2 hours in the queue to check in and receive a dinner voucher (this meant that you could not go for dinner until you checked in).
- By the time all the passengers had checked in, it was after 8:00 pm, 5 hours after being offloaded. The passengers went to the hotel dining room for their first meal that day – dinner. In Europe, EU reg. 261/2004 requires that in the case of flight delays, the airline provides meals and refreshments proportional to the waiting time; and hotel accommodation and hotel transfers where an overnight stay is necessary.
- Passengers set their alarms for 5:00 am to be able to leave the hotel by 6:00 am, so as not to miss the 9:00 am flight. They missed breakfast because breakfast was not served at the hotel until after passengers were required to leave the hotel for the airport. There were no refreshments provided in the boarding lounge.
- The delayed QF2 flight left Dubai on time to a round of applause by the passengers – out of relief, not appreciation. It landed in Sydney at 6:10 am on Christmas Day, 24 hours late.
Qantas’ treatment of the customer complaints from QF2 – Christmas Eve flight
Qantas sent this email to the passengers of the delayed QF2 (Christmas Eve flight):
We do everything we can to make sure you reach your destination on time when you fly with us, however safety is always our first priority and sometimes the flight time needs to change. This was the case with QF2 from London to Sydney via Dubai on 22 December.
As you know, your flight was delayed as engineering support was required. The decision was made to provide accommodation, meals and transport during this extensive delay. I recognise the inconvenience this may have caused you and appreciate your patience and understanding throughout this situation.
If you have any comments you’d like to share with us about the way we handled this flight, feel free to get in touch using this form
Thank you again and I hope we have the pleasure of welcoming you aboard Qantas soon.
The email is of course taken directly from the Qantas Customer Manual. It states that accommodation, meals and hotel transfers were provided, but offers no compensation.
In Europe, EU reg. 261/2004 requires a lump sum compensation to be paid for the inconvenience caused by a flight delay. The amount payable for flight delays of 4 hours or more is €600 (AUD$867), where the flight distance is more than 3,500 km, and the delayed flight is between an EU Airport and a non-EU Airport. No compensation is payable if the delay was caused by extraordinary circumstances which could not have been foreseen even if the airline took all reasonable precautions.
In this flight, EU reg. 261/2004 would have applied to delays on the first leg from London to Dubai, but not to delays on the second leg from Dubai to Sydney, because Dubai is a non-EU Airport.
Should Qantas do more for both the Christmas Eve and New Years Eve flight delays?
There is no equivalent to EU reg. 261/2004 in Australia. And so, from a legal perspective, all that Qantas needs to ensure is that passengers are properly cared for. Compensation for inconvenience is not required to be paid.
In light of the appalling customer service in organising the accommodation, in not providing meals and refreshments for hours on end, and in not providing assistance in terms of updates or re-booking assistance, there is ample basis for passengers to make a claim for compensation for inconvenience under the Australian Consumer Law. The best means of doing so is to file a complaint with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission. The EU compensation amount would be a good guide.
There may also be a basis for claiming financial loss. Given that if the QF2 Christmas Eve flight had been instead booked to arrive on Christmas Day, and the QF2 New Years Eve flight had been instead booked to arrive on New Years Day, the fares would have been lower. It would be reasonable for Qantas to refund the difference in the airfare to the passengers of around AUD$500.
Finally, travel insurance policies do not cover flight delays caused by mechanical issues or other issues within the airline’s control. So, the only claim is against the airline direct.
Submitted by Anthony J Cordato