How Meridiana ruined our holiday

Laura Whitcombe's picture

I’ve just returned home from a six-day trip to Sardinia. It was my first visit to Italy, and it coincided with my first experience of shoddy service from an airline.

My husband is an avid cyclist and the main reason we went away was for him to train for an upcoming race (Ironman World Championship). He had planned six full days of cycling. However, thanks to airline Meridiana, the bike got lost in transit.

We booked the outward leg of our trip with Meridiana, through the Opodo travel website. We’d never heard of Meridiana, but the website explained that the Gatwick to Olbia route was run in partnership with Meridiana and BA, so we assumed the service we’d receive would be on a par with what we’ve come to expect from BA. We were wrong.

The problems started when we tried to find out whether Meridiana would allow us to take the bike instead of a piece of hold luggage at no extra charge, as BA often does. A link on our Opodo booking confirmation to the Meridiana website for more information about baggage was broken so we tried to find the answer on the airline’s website directly.

We managed to work out that we were going to have to pre-book the bike onto the flight as extra baggage, at a cost of 50 euros. But to do that we had to enter our booking reference, which the Meridiana website repeatedly rejected.

Next came a call to customer service, where a rather grumpy lady managed to retrieve the correct reference number. Then it was back to the website to sign in and book the bike onboard through a translated version of an Italian webpage. The transaction went through easily enough but the automatic booking confirmation screen flashed up in Italian. We could, however, just about make out the flight details and it all looked fine.

Then an email version came through in Italian, which showed different flight details. We printed it out and pointed out the disparity to the check-in staff when we got to Gatwick. No problem, we were told. Happens a lot, apparently.

We arrived at check-in as soon as it opened. The bike was weighed and our flight and passenger information attached to its case. We then took it over to the special baggage handlers.

On arrival at Sardinia’s Olbia airport, we waited patiently for the handlers to reunite us with the bike. A mound of pushchairs turned up but the bike didn’t. After a tense wait while the lost baggage staff called the baggage handlers, it turned out the bike wasn’t on the plane and we were informed there was no way of finding out where it was.

If the airport managed to locate it, the bike would be sent to us on the next flight – which was not for another two days. All the baggage team could do was to hand us a print-out of a claim form with a number we could call for updates.

We phoned several times the next day, and each time were told no information was available but that we would be contacted as soon as it was. We then took to Twitter to flag the problem and only then did we get any information – albeit a day later, and in the following cryptic message. We were told: “The practice is being resolved. Bye”.

Having received no more information over the phone, somewhat confusedly, we called the baggage helpline again. To my husband’s relief the bike had been found and flown to Olbia. It finally arrived at our hotel – two days late and having caused a great deal of concern and inconvenience.

On our return home, we followed the advice about the complaints process on the Meridiana website and emailed a claim form containing all the information about the problem we encountered to request a refund for the bike charge and compensation. Two days later, and yet to receive any acknowledgement from the airline, once again I took to Twitter. I received a virtually instant response to say the complaints team would respond within…60 days. That’s 60 days just to respond, let alone offer any compensation.

So what are my rights in all of this? The answer, much to my frustration, is none. Technically, my bag wasn’t lost because it turned up within 21 days. Twenty one days! That means if I’d been stranded in the middle of nowhere with no luggage for a fortnight, I wouldn’t have a leg to stand on either.

As for compensating me for the stress and inconvenience caused, airlines seldom accept any liability. And as I didn’t book the trip as a package, I can’t make a claim to any outfit other than Meridiana. All I can do now is sit and wait for up to 60 days and hope at the very least Meridiana refunds the bike charge. But I won’t hold my breath.

BA’s motto is ‘To fly, to serve’. Meridiana’s might as well be ‘To fly, to serve poorly’. Maybe BA should be a bit more careful about the airlines it allows to hang on to its coat tails.