Phil Woods writes
In February 2019, I flew to Sri Lanka for a week with hand luggage only on a TUI charter flight. As instructed on my flight confirmation invoice, I checked in online and printed out both boarding passes in advance.
Printed on the passes was the instruction for “customers with no bags” to go straight to the departure gate, which would close “45 minutes before your flight departs”.
On my return, I used this print-out to clear passport control and security in Colombo. However, I was refused boarding. Gate staff said I should have obtained an airport-issued boarding pass at the check-in desk.
TUI’s local agent, Aitken Spence, told me it had been asking TUI to amend its documentation after a passenger on a Stockholm flight had encountered a similar problem.
The only offer made by TUI in Colombo was to book me on the next available charter flight in a week’s time, so instead I paid £340 for an Emirates flight later that day. Please can you help me reclaim this cost?
Gill Charlton, consumer correspondent, replies
When Mr Woods wrote to TUI to complain about his treatment in Colombo, he was told that he had no claim because he had been offered a seat on the following week’s flight.
In my view, though, TUI should either have amended its confirmation paperwork to alert customers, or made it impossible to print out a boarding pass. (The latter solution is often used by airlines when staff need to check that passports and visas are in order.)
I asked TUI to review its treatment of Mr Woods. In response it said that, at the time of booking the flight, Mr Woods had ticked a box saying he had read an erratum stating that customers must pick up a boarding pass at Colombo airport. Mr Woods and I did not think it was fair to expect a passenger to remember this instruction months later. The requirement should be flagged on the flight confirmation document itself.
Mr Woods issued an online Civil Money Claim in July 2019 for £432 and paid the court fee of £35. TUI made no response, so on August 16 a county court judgment was issued for the amount claimed, only to be set aside a few weeks later when a judge accepted that TUI had filed a formal defence in time but had sent it to the wrong address.
TUI then asked for the case to be heard in Luton rather than in Guildford, where Mr Woods lives. The hearing was finally scheduled for April 23 but delayed again because of lockdown. Only on October 16, after a paper-based hearing, did Mr Woods learn that the judge had thrown out TUI’s defence as being “neither credible nor convincing”.
TUI had claimed that Mr Woods had not checked in for the flight and was trying to claim a full refund and “an extra holiday”. The judge ordered TUI to pay £432 plus fixed costs of £275. The whole saga had taken some 15 months to resolve.
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