Vueling cancelled our flight to Florence, then ignored a refund request

<span>Photograph: Stephen Elsworth/Alamy</span>
Photograph: Stephen Elsworth/Alamy

Last year I used the British Airways website to book a June 2022 flight from Gatwick to Florence for me and my husband. The flights cost £770, and when the confirmation email came through, it turned out they were with BA’s sister firm, the Spanish airline Vueling.

However, two hours before we were due to take off, Vueling cancelled the flight, “due to meteorological reasons” in Florence.

Phone calls made by various other passengers to family in Florence soon established the weather there was sunny and calm, so we assume the flight was cancelled for another reason.

We made our way by train from Gatwick to our home near Southampton and managed to book a flight with another carrier to Florence two days later. We lost two days of our holiday, plus hotel costs.

Since then, we have been trying to get a refund of the outward-bound leg of the flight and compensation for cancelling as per the EU rules.

Vueling initially just ignored our requests. Eventually, after involving the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), it responded in September, reiterating the flight had been cancelled as a result of “extraordinary circumstances”. It refused compensation, and no refund was paid.

In March, it accepted our request for a refund but only for the £20 paid for the extra train journey from the airport back home, not for the cancelled flight.

After further correspondence, it said I had to contact BA to get the refund. BA has, in turn, refused to accept responsibility and told me to take my claim to Vueling.

Almost a year on, I have received £20 and am at a loss as to know what to do next.

AB, Hants

This letter arrived within days of another from a reader who was similarly complaining that Vueling had ignored his demand for compensation after it had cancelled his flight. He had been trying to send pre-action papers but found that none of its listed UK addresses would accept them.

I asked Vueling, BA and the CAA about both cases but have mostly come up against a wall of silence. Like you, BA tells me to talk to Vueling but the airline has – you guessed it – ignored me, too.

Coby Benson, Bott and Co’s airline compensation expert, says the law is clear in this reader’s case, and Vueling should have provided a full refund within seven days of the cancellation, or provided a free replacement flight.

“AB therefore has the choice of a full refund or reimbursement of the replacement flight if it was more expensive.

“I think there’s a strong argument that compensation of £220 a passenger is due because Vueling failed to take reasonable measures to minimise the disruption they experienced.”

Of the company’s failure to engage with customers seeking compensation for cancelled flights, he claims this type of behaviour is now entirely typical.

“Its actions frustrate the process of passengers enforcing their consumer rights. Ordinarily, I would advise passengers to issue court proceedings. However, Vueling does not have an address in England on which to serve court proceedings.

“Prior to Brexit, we were able to issue court proceedings against it with relative ease using the European small claims procedure. However, that is no longer an option.”

For this reason, he says, Bott and Co has stopped taking cases from Vueling passengers.

There is one happy outcome to this. After my intervention, Vueling did finally make contact with AB, and it appears it is refunding her the £380 for the cancelled outward leg she was due 11 months ago.

If AB and the other letter writer wish to pursue their compensation claims, they could try sending them to International Airlines Group Waterside, PO Box 365, Harmondsworth, UB7 0GB. It might work.

Failing that, Benson says you should both look for a no-win, no-fee lawyer in Spain (Vueling’s home country) where proceedings could be issued with relative ease.

In the meantime, I’d urge Guardian readers to avoid this airline, unless they enjoy fighting legal battles. Big firms that operate transparently, and within the law, are usually happy to talk to the press and allow claims to be heard in court, so why isn’t Vueling?

The CAA, which is supposed to enforce UK airline passenger rights, also declined to comment.

Maybe it’s quietly decided to give up on this one.

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