By Christopher Elliott
Q: We were returning from Rome to Vancouver via Toronto last year when we were bumped from our flight by Alitalia. Alitalia rerouted us through London, where we ran into a great deal of difficulty, including a missed flight. Eventually, we caught a flight to Vancouver the next day.
Alitalia owes us 600 euros, according to the European consumer-protection rules. But the airline has provided an almost perfect case study of an airline employing delay and stonewalling techniques as a means to avoid its regulatory and legal obligations, and to wear down the complainants in the process.
There have been several emails exchanged among us, our travel agent and Alitalia. The airline doesn’t respond to the regulatory and legal-case information raised by us and our travel agent. We have filed a complaint with Canadian authorities, but we also would appreciate your assistance in dealing with Alitalia on this issue. — Neil Kyle, Port Coquitlam, British Columbia
A: You’re right. European regulations — specifically, a law called EU 261 — require Alitalia to compensate you for the denied boarding and delay. Instead, it appears to be giving you the brushoff.
It’s not difficult to see why. European airlines pay only a small percentage of the claims owed under EU 261. Most passengers don’t know of the rule, and it’s written vaguely enough that airline lawyers do an excellent job of convincing passengers that the airlines aren’t required to pay up.
Generally speaking, it also is true that airlines like to continue sending form rejection letters until you give up. That’s actually true for most businesses, not just air carriers. But airlines have perfected it, and no European airline seems to do it better than Alitalia.
A brief, written appeal to an Alitalia executive might have helped. I list each of their names and addresses on my website (http://elliott.org/contacts/alitalia-airlines/). But it’s been a while since an appeal to an Alitalia executive has been successful; I would have just sent it to the airline as a courtesy before taking it to the next level.
When an airline won’t budge, your final step is to take this issue to authorities. In addition to the Canadian Transportation Agency (http://www.otc-cta.gc.ca/eng/air-travel-complaints-1), I also might have considered contacting Italian regulators. (In the United States, you would have been able to complain to the U.S. Department of Transportation).
I contacted Alitalia on your behalf. It said that it also heard from Canadian authorities about your case. It apologized for the way in which it handled your claim and paid you the 600 euros you’re owed. It also promised to address your case with customer-care agents “to ensure we avoid similar mistakes in the future.”
Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine and the author of “How To Be The World’s Smartest Traveler.” You can read more travel tips on his blog, elliott.org, or email him firstname.lastname@example.org
(c) 2014 Christopher Elliott. Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.