"Ghost flights” scandal

"Ghost flights” scandal

Passengers left on the ground and cancelled flights are a persistent problem, despite the reopening of European borders. A few weeks ago, airlines invented a system that makes life impossible for those who want to travel, but it seems to be profitable for the coffers of companies. Tickets to European destinations are sold on the Internet, but they are cancelled after a few days or a few days before departure.

People are first attracted by the very low prices of flights, they book and then find themselves with their desired flight cancelled, often without any notice from the airline. If you want to change your ticket or reschedule your trip, then the prices are multiplied by 50 or 100 times...

The European Commission is receiving numerous complaints about this new post-quarantine problem. And on passenger rights, Commissioner Didier Reynders is clear. "It is a consumer's choice to ask for a refund or to agree on a voucher. We are now preparing some infringement procedures and, if necessary, we will go to court to apply sanctions against Member States that have broken European laws". The problem is that passengers do not always want to accept a voucher, but on the other hand refunds may arrive after too much time and often after a dramatic administrative tour.

Summer 2020 will go down in history as the "ghost" flight season in Europe and the US. The airline tickets on sale suggest normal and frequent flights. Direct flights to "classic" locations given the period (capitals, tourist cities, holiday resorts) at reasonable prices and interesting times. There is just one small detail: many are connections that will not take off. Not that day. And most likely also in the following weeks. The really serious thing is that the airline knows this. The passenger doesn't.

Thousands of non-existent seats sold on board aircraft still out of service bringing money to the impoverished coffers of carriers - after three months of closed borders and travel stops - and vouchers to customers. There is no official balance sheet, but international databases offer some numbers: if at the end of May the seats sold on flights in Europe in the week 15-21 June were 17.8 million, the real ones were 3.9 million. All the others? Gone, although sold in large part. Officially the cause is the health emergency that between epidemiological waves and restrictions between countries makes flying impossible.

There are other explanations behind the scenes. One is technical: the connections were put on sale several months ago and have never been removed, also because they help to understand where the post-Covid market is "pulling". In short: the airline executives know that they won't take off, but they keep them. The other reason is operational: the flows are still reduced, the planes are not filling up and so it is better to cancel the flight instead of taking it off. Also because in return - and this is the third reason - the carrier offers a voucher and does not return money.

Given the situation, it is appropriate to provide sanctions against those airlines that do not apply the European regulation which provides - in case of cancellations and lack of information - for re-routing, reimbursement (not the voucher!) and compensation (when necessary). Flights cannot be cancelled due to the coronavirus because since 3 June restrictions on the movement of persons throughout the Schengen area and the United Kingdom have been lifted. So these are cancellations made for commercial and business reasons!

In addition, the cost of most flights is very high and there are several stopovers even for flights that are normally direct. According to a study carried out by the Iata (International Air Transport Association, an international organization of airlines based in Montreal) the average price of an air ticket for a trip in Europe has increased by 49% compared to last year. To the various factors that have affected this rather heavy increase belong the measures of social distancing on board aircraft that governments have imposed on the various companies and that force airlines to leave two empty seats in each row. This means limiting the maximum capacity of carriers to 66% of the seats actually available. Thus, to make up for the loss of earnings, the companies have raised the prices of tickets sold.

In my opinion, what is happening with the airlines and flight cancellations is not acceptable. I myself booked a flight to Milan through Alitalia a month ago and it was cancelled two days before departure. I did not receive any cancellation emails from the airline and none of the customer service operators answered my hundreds of calls. Unfortunately, what happened to me is known as the "Linate case". The Milan airport is closed until a date to be set, but you can buy tickets for July and August on the sites. On the official website, a note warns that since June 15th the traffic is temporarily diverted to Malpensa Terminal 1, because it is bigger and therefore more suitable to the anti-Covid regulations. However, none of the flights are being diverted. Simply cancelled without any notice. I discovered that my flight had been cancelled not because Alitalia had informed me but because I could not check in online, my flight number did not appear either on the airline's website or among the scheduled departures from London City Airport.

Personally, I am outraged. The airlines obviously prefer to keep the money and give the vouchers if they give them out. It would be up to the Commission to take action, and quickly, but given the speed at which the EU is working we may have to wait a long time.

This is clearly a scam. What would you call selling a plane ticket for a flight that will never actually take off? Whoever buys a ticket for a particular day would want to leave at exactly that moment. Also because together with the flight booking, you may have booked other services, such as hotels, museum visits, rental cars, etc., but your holiday will never take place as planned. It must obviously be postponed without any certainty that the flight will not be cancelled again in the future.

What do you and your language exchange friends think about this scandal? Did you happen to book a flight that never took off? Let us know your opinions and experiences in the comments below.

Written by: Martina Sassi, Staff Writer

Language Exchange