Reader Email: Blu Express / Blue Panorama Fraud

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A LoyaltyLobby reader sent us an email about a scam that Italian airline Blue Express/Blue Panorama is running.

Blue Panorama

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Here’s the email from the reader:

I recently booked a flight with an Italian airline called Blu Express (low budget version of Blue Panaroma).

I made the booking on the 4th of April and flew on the 8th of June. At the time of my booking, Blu Express operated their old website which was poor and outdated to say the least. Booking was as you would expect though, it asked for the passengers first name and surname.

So I was surprised when I arrived to the check-in counter to be told that I had to pay a 50 euro name change fee because my middle name was not on my booking. The check-in lady refused to discuss it further and said I had to speak to Swissport who represents the airline at the airport.

Arriving at the Swissport counter it was obvious I was not alone. There were at least 20 other people at the counter, who had the same issue (and I saw more people queue up later once I had paid the fee, checked-in and joined the security line).

The employees at Swissport were not able to help at all, but did inform me that Blu Express launched their new website on the 14th of April, just 10 days after my booking which does now ask for middle name as well as first name.

However despite her knowing this, she said Blu Express’s policy is still to charge the name change fee to passengers with bookings prior to the new website launching.

They are therefore well aware that their old booking website never asked for middle name, but still effectively holding passengers ransom at airports. They don’t have any representation at the airports and all their handling is outsourced to third party companies so passengers have no one to turn to and therefore have the choice of paying the ransom or forfeiting their flight.

I would consciously committing fraud on the grand scale if you work out how many people have been affected by this. They claim on their website that they fly 700,000 people a year, so the amount of people affected by this would easily be at least in the tens of thousand. Most probably just assume they made a mistake a pay the fee without realising.

If you Google the company name together with the word “fraud” or “scam” on Google reveals thousands of bad reviews, petitions, facebook and twitter accounts about the companies middle-name-scam practises. It appears they have been operating the scam for several years and only just now updated their website to ask for the middle name.

Speaking to other passengers around me the airline seem to ask for different amount from different people without it being very obvious why. A poor American couple were forced to pay 300 euros each to change their names!

In their case they had booked more recently than me but via Priceline. They had provided middle names to Priceline who had not passed it on to the airline, but the airline still would not honour their ticket. I suspect the reason they had to pay 300 euros each was because they made their reservation after the 14th of April so the airline most likely cancelled their tickets and sold them back to them for the full rate.

What’s interesting as well is that despite paying for the name change, they never actually updated the name on my booking. They just charge 50 euro on my credit card and then gave me a receipt to show check-in. The boarding card they then printed off does not show my middle name.

What is my best way to proceed? Apart from the airlines customer service, would I file a complaint with the Italian Civil Aviation Authority (Enac)?

I can maybe ask my credit card provider for a reverse charge since the airline never actually changed the name on the booking so I paid for a service which I technically never received?

How can an airline like this be allowed to continue operating in the EU in this day and age?

Conclusion

This is really nothing but a scam by the airline. It seems that they have found a way to extort another 50 euros from many of its passengers.

I never book airline tickets using my full name. I use either my first name + last name or first name, middle initial and last name-combinations and never had an issue.

The reader could utilize the European Consumer Center and file a complaint against the airline. There is really no excuse for this behavior.

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