During my daily reads this morning I came across an almost unbelievable story involving Emirates Airlines and two passengers scheduled to fly from Sydney to New York on the Dubai based carrier back in 2012.
As per the article published by Australia Alternative Media Group (access here) the two passengers got stranded in Dubai after their flight to New York got cancelled due to a hurricane on the U.S. east coast. The passengers were initially given a hotel accommodation voucher to out wait the bad weather, expecting to remain in DXB for three days until the next available flight was departing. It seems however, that the agent issuing this voucher was overruled by Emirates management later that day as the article outlines:
In the middle of that night, they received a knock on the door.
It was an Emirates staff member who told them the carrier … was no longer prepared to pay for their short stay in Dubai. Instead they were told they would have to fly to an alternative destination that morning.
Their options were San Francisco, Washington DC and Dallas, all of which being more than 2400 kilometres away from the destination printed on their tickets.
With Washington airport likely to be also closed, and Dallas being the next closest destination to New York, the pair opted to fly there.
They then drove for five days in budget rental cars to New York, where they were moving to work.
It was the cost of car hire and accommodation during their journey from Dallas to New York that they sought from Emirates.
The passengers files a customer service complaint with Emirates at no avail, subsequently they took Emirates to the Australian ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal (ACAT) and won.
Last May, ACAT ordered that Emirates pay the passengers $1891.68.
Now the unbelievable part:
Not only did Emirates refuse to adhere to the judgement, they sued Mr Matic, Mr Atkins and ACAT in the Federal court later that month.
Emirates demanded that ACAT revoke its decision and claimed $11,000 in legal costs from the passengers.
The airline cited the 1999 Montreal Convention, of which Australia is a signatory, which states in article 33 that “an action for damages must be brought […] either before the court of the domicile of the carrier or of its principal place of business.”
Emirates has argued that ACAT did not have the jurisdiction to deal with the case as it is not a court.
The case is pending, expected to be heard and adjudged at the Australian Federal Court on August 2 2015. The passengers now reside in Los Angeles, CA (USA).
This is a simply breathtakingly development and once again examplifies why these ME3 carriers have such an appalling record of customer service. They are great in the air but once things start to go wrong you are completely on your own.
In my opinion there were multiple errors made in this case. For one, the weather situation back then was truly awful and I can still remember the TV reporting. It would have been reasonable to research beforehand if the airports along the U.S. east coast are scheduled to close and flights subject to cancellations. Big carriers usually have waivers in place that allows to reschedule the flight free of charge. I’m not aware if Emirates offers something like this before a flight is actually cancelled. Maybe it would have been possible to foresee this event before departing Sydney. That is however all the passengers could have done up to this point.
Once checked in, the passengers are in the care of the airline and that includes the obligation to transport them to their final destination as booked. The fashion in which the passengers were awaken during the night (as alleged in this case) and given the bad news is completely unacceptable.
The Hurricane is force majeure, that is indisputable. If Emirates didn’t want to pay for the passengers hotel and meals in Dubai then they should have suggested that the passengers pay these expenses by themselves and if available claim with a travel insurance at a later time.
Pressuring the customers to accept a flight to a completely different destination without interlining them onto another carrier to their final destination through a Flight Interruption Manifest (FIM) is actually a breach of contract and against all rules that exist within IATA in regards to irregular operations.
Given the circumstances that the passengers used this flight to settle in the U.S. for work purposes should have given jurisdiction to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) where you can always file a consumer complaint. The DOT is very efficient in enforcing the rather stringent U.S. legislature in regards to such incidents. It is less complicated than a court filing and the agency has no enforcement power when it comes to compensation for the passenger. They can only fine the airline and include the matter in statistics. In any case the DOT would have contacted Emirates and outlined their point of view. This often leads to a settlement in a customer relations procedure.
Emirates completely dropped the ball here. As I mentioned, as soon as you run into problems with these ME3 carriers, especially in Economy Class and without Frequent Flier Status, you are lost. There is very little room for action and recourse.
Another option available to the passengers would have been to sue Emirates in a U.S. based Small Claims Court. This is a breach of contract matter and does not fall under the limitations of the Airline Deregulation Act. I myself have sued airlines successfully in California for such cases and was able to recover expenses incurred. U.S. jurisdiction is general more beneficial in these instances and in my experience local residency and point of purchase was sufficient to determine subject matter jurisdiction. This option might still be available to them even though the complaint has been filed already in Australia.In any case I wish the two guys luck that Emirates will not succeed with these bullying tactics which I deem truly reprehensible.