What is a ticket? And how does it apply to over-booked flights?
Maybe I should have watched more airport reality shows and been prepared for this, but I was astonished late last year to turn up at Heathrow and find I couldn't get onto the flight I had tickets for, because it was over-booked.
I am fairly sure major airlines have better legal advice than me, and that I had in fact only puchased some sort of "permission to try to fly you if we have space" voucher. However I naivly assumed that paying £350-odd to catch a specified flight entitled me to be on it.
Cyprus Airways were the culprits, as my new wife and myself headed out for our honeymoon. There were other couples who couldn't get on to the flight, and graciously one older couple agreed not to try and fly in the hope that we could get on. I should have had the presence of mind to ask for their contact details because I wish I was now able to send them a card & present - it was very sweet of them.
My wife and I turned on a controlled performance of you cry and I'll be angry. We were offered either an overnight stay in London, or a flight to Athens to then connect to Cyprus the next day. We held firm and in the end the captain of the plane agreed to take us in the "jump seats" as cabin crew. This only happened because it was our honeymoon. Naturally before we left we had to sign a document waiving our legal rights of complaint - although I didn't check the small-print to see whether it precluded my blogging it - or blogging about it a couple of months later when I could be slightly more rational about it.
Travelling in the "jump seats" means that for take-off and landing you have to sit with the cabin crew in the rear of the plane. My wife was in the kitchen, with no view of where we were in the take-off sequence, whilst I was cramping the style of an air-steward. I had to give my wife hand signals to indicate when we were taking off.
"Jump seats" also means that during the flight you have to sit at the "muster stations" next to the emergency exits over the wings, facing the back of the plane - with no table to eat your food from, no view of the information screens, no headphone socket for the films, and you are cramping someone elses leg-room for the entire flight.
The pursar on the flight gave us a bottle of champagne as compensation. Typically British I was bought off by the promise of getting drunk ;-)
We booked the tickets from ebookers, who I would still use again, and would absolve from blame themselves, if it wasn't for one thing. On my return I found waiting in my in-box a mail from them asking me to give feedback on how my journey had been. Which was excellent customer service and a real boost to their brand image. I wrote them a very fair account of what had happened - but got no acknowledgement or reply. Which wasn't so good.
And I've now given both Cyprus Airways & eBookers a grace period of four months to attempt to contact me and try and convince me I should ever use them again because they are sorry that, in the words I used at Heathrow "You've made my wife cry, and ruined the start of our honeymoon"
In the end we were very grateful that they had squeezed us on, and that we got to Cyprus in time to enjoy the full holiday we had planned. But the more I have subsequently thought about it, the more it seems incredible to me that you could purchase two tickets, four months in advance of travel, for a specific flight, and turn up on the day to be told that it wasn't valid for travel. Imagine if that happened at football, or gigs, or the theatre: "Sorry sir, we know you bought a ticket for the show, but we over-booked it. Here is a voucher to get some food and an overnight stay instead, and we'll try and squeeze you in the next time Kraftwerk tour".